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Writing a historical novel

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Hi,

I started writing a historical novel about a family that immigrated to New York in the 70s. I've done some research on that period and it also draws from personal experience since my family moved to New York during that time. Initially I thought about writing a MG, but I need to decide if it might be better as a YA since the protagonist wants to discover his surroundings riding on the train, among other things, with a new friend.  Also he reflects about his new life and has a conflict with his father. The story is set in the Bronx.  It's my first try at historical fiction.
(I wrote a fantasy novel and a contemporary novel, but I haven't publish them).   :faint

Does it sound more like MG or YA?    Could you suggest any books on writing historical fiction?  Any comments on the topic are most appreciated.  :thankyou

#1 - October 07, 2014, 08:57 AM

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Congratulations on your plan of writing a historical fiction.  To me it sounds like it would be better as YA, basically due to the traveling aspect. I am in the midst of writing (for years I have revised this book) a historically-based novel, with setting in 1930s NYC.  I am going through a process where a publisher is tentatively interested. Good luck to you! Two that I liked a lot were: Freedom Passage, by Carol Behrman, and The Worst of Times, by James Lincolon Collier. Check with your local librarian and I am sure you will find more.   

Leslie
#2 - October 07, 2014, 02:09 PM

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Have you read Rebecca Stead's MG Newbery-winner WHEN YOU REACH ME? It's set in NYC in the 1970s. I read an interview with her where she says that she purposefully chose the 1970s, because she needed a time when kids could move freely about the city via public transportation.
#3 - October 07, 2014, 04:56 PM
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Thanks a lot for your suggestions and comments. I haven't read any of the books you mentioned, so I will look into that. I hadn't thought about doing a search on books set in NYC at the time. That might also be useful. 

Thanks again. 



#4 - October 09, 2014, 09:58 AM

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Without reading your story it would be hard to tell. MG or YA is not necessarily about the age or conflict of the character but the sensibility. A conflict with a parent is as common with MG as it is with YA, but if it turns into murder, it's definitely YA. Both MG and YA deal with reflecting about your place in the universe.

I don't have any how-to books to recommend, but the best teachers are other HF, so here is a list of my favorite authors: Karen Cushman, Richard Peck, Laura Amy Schlitz, Kate di Camillo.

Good luck writing your story.
Vijaya
#5 - October 09, 2014, 11:10 AM
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Thanks a lot for reading my post and taking the time to answer. I will check out those authors.

I also checked your site. Very interesting and it has so much information! You're such a prolific author.

Thanks again. 
#6 - October 22, 2014, 07:47 PM
« Last Edit: October 23, 2014, 10:09 AM by Vijaya »

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Most definitions of historical fiction would put the time farther back--I think about 1945 and before. I don't see how a 1970's story would be different from a contemporary one except that you'd need to avoid anachronisms. You'd research in old newspapers and magazines, old photos of places, etc. To name your characters, you can Google "popular names" and the decade  they were born.

There'll be a historical fiction conference in Denver next June. I went to the one a year and a half ago and found it very interesting and fun. Good luck with your work. --Jenna
#7 - November 16, 2014, 01:39 PM

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I think that might have once been true, particularly for adult fiction.  But for children's fiction the 1970s are indeed considered historical.
#8 - November 16, 2014, 03:51 PM
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I agree. I think I read somewhere--maybe on this board--that "historical" for a kid's novel means "before the reader was born."

#9 - November 16, 2014, 04:02 PM
« Last Edit: November 16, 2014, 04:07 PM by Barbara Etlin »
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After posting, I realized I should have included, with research, talking with people who remember the 1970s well, and having  some of them check your manuscript.

Donald Maass, a literary agent, has a section in one of his books  about recent trends in historical fiction (anyway trends of a few years ago) and what is no longer published much. I think it was in Writing the Breakout Novel, but (sorry) I'm not sure that's the one.
#10 - November 16, 2014, 06:15 PM

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Jenna2, Marissa and Barbara, thank you so much for adding more information to this topic. Your different ideas and opinions teach and inspire me and  help me analyze my work.

Have a lovely day.  :stars3
#11 - November 18, 2014, 08:21 AM

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Chiming in to agree that "historical" means "before the reader was born." We're now at the point where even many of our YA readers were born after 2000. When I was growing up, historical was definitely anything prior to my birth. 

Yes, if you are writing about a decade that living people still remember well, do find a reader or two from among them as beta readers, specifically asking them to check for anachronisms. I recently read a published novel set in the decade of my childhood, and was pulled out of the story by references to things that hadn't existed then yet.

Actually -- even though those things mentioned above could and should have been checked -- this just gives me even more respect for history and those who venture to write about it. If we can make fairly significant mistakes even about decades that living people remember, what kinds of mistakes are we making about 100 years ago and beyond? All we can do, with fiction or nonfiction, is write the best we can to try to pass those stories on, but our expertise is less than we think, so very easily veiled by time.
#12 - November 18, 2014, 08:45 AM
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My thanks for the comments and ideas. I read a draft of a novel set in the 1930s where the protagonist treated a visit to an airport as an ordinary occasion. I've heard discussions about whether historical fiction should be accurate. It should be careful.  Readers pick up information and forget where they got it. Also, history buffs are turned off by any inaccuracy.

On some other points, about books--there are a lot of articles about historical fiction in writers magazines. Mostly they tell about the research (all kinds of research in all kinds of sources). Other than that, I think you would write one set in the 1970s the same way you'd write one set today (except for some differences based on research). The dialogue would be enviably easier than for a remote time.

As for MG or YA--I've heard MG agents include historical fiction in what they like, and a YA agent told me it's a hard sell for YA today. Of course that may change if there's a very popular historical  YA. Agents' web sites tell what they want.
#13 - November 18, 2014, 11:58 AM

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As one of those old timers who has childhood/teen memories of the 1970s, I'd be careful about writing a book set then "the same way you'd write one set today."  It may not seem that way, but a LOT of things have changed in the culture since then, most notably how women and minorities are regarded and treated and what they could aspire to. There's been a lot more cultural change overall than you might expect.
#14 - November 18, 2014, 12:11 PM
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What Marissa says is true, there've been big changes, and it might save time to have the plot checked in advance by people who remember  the period well. Actually I meant the novel would be written with a similar style (with changes in  a small number of words) and a similar amount of dialogue, emotion, rising action, and such.

After writing the post, it occurred to me that if it's classified as historical, some readers (or librarians who choose books) might want some bits of information and history. I don't know the whole range of what's published and I'm not very familiar with MG or this year's YA. Yesterday I read an MG, I Survived the Destruction of Pompeii, and was impressed with it.
#15 - November 18, 2014, 02:12 PM

My middle grade (which might have been better classified as YA because of violence and sexual assault...I had a hard time getting into schools unless it was middle school) is set in the 1980s and considered historical. And though there are many defining points for what is historical, I have heard that if the storyline evolves because of historical events (aftermath of war for mine) then it is indeed historical. 

I just wrote the book the way I wanted to write it and the publisher marketed it as MG. So that's another consideration...to just write it the way the story demands. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be familiar with the differences between MG and YA, but be cautious that choosing one over the other won't impede your writing. Hope that makes sense. A thousand different opinions on this, so it is simply another consideration.  ;)
#16 - December 12, 2014, 08:33 AM
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Great comments.  With your question MG vs. YA--you could go either way, but my immediate response was MG, perhaps because of Rebecca Stead's wonderful book WHEN YOU REACH ME.  In fact, in addition to your own experiences in the '70's or historical facts--you should probably read other novels in both the time period and category.  Choose which is best for you; which voice will be most natural.  Best of luck.  I don't write historical novels, but I certainly read (and love) them.
#17 - December 12, 2014, 08:59 AM

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Hi,

Sorry I didn't reply sooner to your posts. I must say they have been great. Thanks. https://www.scbwi.org/boards/Smileys/default/yourock.gif

I found an article in the 2015 Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Magazine that precisely deals with the differences between MG and YA.  I'm more inclined toward MG.

I had the opportunity of visiting family in NY and did some research in libraries nearby. As several of you mentioned, accuracy is important.

I'm considering working with a more structured outline since I tend to write with the idea in my head and make my path as I go along, but I'm finding that half way it gets rather difficult.   

Thanks again.  Have a lovely New Year 2015 all of you.
#18 - January 10, 2015, 07:31 PM

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I just listened to a nice webinar/podcast on Dialogue with Joanna Penn and James Scott Bell. He describes reading lots of newspapers from the era he wanted to write about, so that the language would accurately reflect the time. Note: Joanna talks about her thriller book quite a bit in the intro, but you can always slide the video forward to hear the dialogue part if thrillers aren't your thing.
http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2014/07/28/writing-dialogue/
Happy writing!
Laurel
#19 - February 28, 2015, 11:06 AM

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