Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

Navigating the Tightrope between Historical Fact and Historical Fiction

There are so many questions when you begin (or get in the middle of!) writing historical fiction. What should I research? When should I research? How much research should I put in the book? Why don’t my characters feel historical? Why does my prose seem to clash with my story?

Writing good historical fiction means navigating the tightrope between historical fact and your fictional story. And there are so many places where it is easy to step off that tightrope and into the abyss of mediocre historical fiction. In this class, we will consider and practice several elements of historical fiction as well as learn by example from authors who have navigated the balance in their work.

If you desire to write historical fiction or are wanting to up your game in creating historical fiction that immerses your reader in another era, this class is for you.

In this class you’ll learn to:

  • identify the amount of history needed for your story
  • research the big picture and the small details
  • identify the kinds of things to research and where to find them
  • create characters true to their time period
  • use your words to transport readers to a different era
  • mesh all the various elements of history into a finished work of fiction

Class outline:

Session 1: The Spectrum of Historical Fiction

  • Define historical fiction
  • Consider the spectrum of historical fiction
  • Identify your WIP along that spectrum

Session 2: Research: Overview the Time Period

  • Big picture research
  • Locational research
  • History that informs plot
  • Timelines

Session 3: Research: Daily Life Realities

  • What to research
  • When to research
  • Where to research

Session 4: Research: Customs and Culture

  • What to research
  • When to research
  • Where to research

Session 5: Characters: Real and Imagined

  • Using historical figures
  • Creating historical characters
  • Avoiding anachronistic characters

Session 6: Words: Vocabulary

  • Create a historical “feeling” through words
  • Etymology
  • Formality
  • Word Order
  • Expressions
  • Tone and Rhythm

Session 7: Words: Dialogue

  • Dialect
  • Other languages
  • Slang
  • Education and Class

Session 8: Putting it Together

  • Identifying your strengths and weaknesses
  • Focus when drafting
  • Focus when revising
  • The overall “feel”


Anne Mateer

Anne Mateer has loved the marriage of history and fiction since she first began reading. Armed with a B.A. in history from Southern Methodist University, she has authored four traditionally published historical novels, including one Carol Award finalist. This past September, she published her first indie historical novella, No Small Storm, with another scheduled to release late spring. Anne is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers’ League of Texas, and Historical Novel Society. She enjoys helping other writers through freelance editing, judging writing contests, and teaching online classes. Anne and her husband, Jeff, enjoy reading, exploring historical sites and historical homes, and visiting their grown children—and granddaughter!—in Texas and Massachusetts. Anne and Jeff are currently living their empty nest adventure in a high rise condo in Austin, Texas.



Anne's class helped me land a three-book contract

5.0 rating
January 6, 2020

I took Navigating the Tightrope when I decided to switch over from contemporary romance to historical fiction. I'd written three novels, with no offers, and thought I'd try the genre I love most. But writing historical fiction intimidated me; I didn't know where to start.
This class helped me learn how to use the setting and historical details to make my stories come alive. It offered me the confidence to write a book set in 19th century India. And because of it, that book was contracted by my top-choice publisher (along with an additional two books.) I'm so grateful to Anne and this class. She's a fantastic teacher and mentor.

Kimberly Duffy

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