A look at Genre: Historical Fiction

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Creating a well-written novel is a balancing act, but some genres are more troublesome to navigate. Knowing which rules to follow and which to break can be difficult. Historical fiction writers face some of the greatest challenges.

There are specific rules one must consider when taking on the task of writing this kind of literature. Research will go a long way in this genre. Knowing the time, place, and people you are writing about during the particular era you work with is crucial. Readers (especially readers that are also writers) like to know they can trust the author to deliver accurate information. Sometimes, small things can pull a reader out of the world, like cars from a year too early driving down the road, or wrongly valued currency being passed by traders. So pay attention to the little things as much as the larger points.

However, the ‘fiction’ in this genre also allows you some give and take. For instance, in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, time travel is one of the story's main subjects. In these multi-genre books, she uses the fictional aspect to fill small gaps in her novels. History constricts the writer, but we are also allowed to use it to our advantage with some practice.

Now, there are two common ways to write historical fiction. The first, and most common in my opinion, is using an earlier period (generally the time periods around major events such as wars are the most common) and adding fictional people to face the complications of the time. The second involves writing from the perspective of people who actually lived and telling a story that could have occurred.

When I read historical fiction, I don’t want to get caught up in dated issues and old ways of thinking. When I’m reading historical fiction (the first time), I just want to get lost in another time. Often, this is what readers expect from this kind of writing. It can be difficult to keep a story set in the past timeless and universal, but it is not impossible. People still read Shakespeare because his themes are timeless. The key to good historical fiction is finding something that all readers can relate to which is why historical fiction novels (or TV shows, movies, etc.) are usually multi-genre now. Love, hate, and so on are often very significant in these novels because they are something everyone has brushed in life at one time or another.

A lot of the time people are intimidated by the idea of diving head first into a period they aren’t a part of because it is foreign ground. Overcoming this fear and exploring history is the best means of learning and becoming comfortable with writing historical fiction. It’s easier than you’d think to fall in love with another time.


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Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her. 

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katelin laurin

Katelin is a writer with a passion for historical fiction and hockey. Born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario she can often be found riding the O-Train with a Pepsi, at least one copy of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a developing character in the empty seat across from her.

History of Writing

Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash

Photo by Daniel Burka on Unsplash

Nobody knows the origin point of language or writing. Humankind has left traces of its development throughout our known history: the caves of Blombos and Lascaux; the clay tablets of Mesopotamia; Egyptian hieroglyphics. Language has a long history, but much of it is incomplete. The records we do have hardly tell the whole story, which affords us some leeway in its historical narrative. We can only theorize the when and where based on archaeological finds, but who’s to say what we’ll find in the future. 

The markings we produce today are tied closely to the phonetic sounds we create with our mouths. However, this wasn’t always the case. At one point in time writing was independent of speech, in as much as it can be.

For instance, if you were to try to communicate the word “river” to someone not in the presence of an actual river, and pointing to it, it may play out like a game of charades, using your arms and hands to simulate the water and the land. It wouldn’t be so easy. But if you were to draw it, it would significantly improve your chances of successful communicating. In much the same way, the simplified images we used to convey something to someone, it had to be literally drawn out. There was no relationship between a particular sound and the symbol.

When I write, I know I'm motivated by some of same forces that guided our ancestors. Writers are all just scratching away at our own cave walls with a bit of fire and promise — in the hope that what we do will last. Writing’s history is buried in humanity’s struggle to communicate. To tell stories, to record an event of significance, or merely to serve a function, such as taking stock.

I wonder what compelled an individual, 20,000 years ago, to preserve the form of a bison or a horse. Is it perhaps the same instinct to write or draw today? Did they know their images, their mode of communication, would last some 200 centuries? Modern writing is on an entirely different plane of longevity. Do we, as human beings, operate under the notion that what we create will last forever?


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Justin Kataquapit was born on the remote reserve of Moose Factory, ON. He is currently a second year student in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. Plans for the future consists of drinking tea listening to Bob Dylan, and further study in the arts, namely cinema and literature.

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Justin Kataquapit

Justin Kataquapit was born on the remote reserve of Moose Factory, ON. He is currently a second year student in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. Plans for the future consists of drinking tea listening to Bob Dylan, and further study in the arts, namely cinema and literature.

Paper vs. Tech

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Everybody has a different writing process. Some prefer having a pad of paper, wrapped in a blanket with a drink of choice, staring out the window. Others would rather have a screen in front of them, music blaring in their ears, typing away. Is writing on paper better than writing with technology? How does reading play into the writing process? Let’s explore it all, and you can decide.

Writing on paper can feel more satisfying and can be easier to connect aspects of your writing that would be harder to organize anywhere else. I use paper to draw complex diagrams and sort my thoughts that would take too much time to make on my computer. Writing on paper does have benefits, however writing long passages or stories seem easier with a keyboard.

Not only is typing a faster way to write (for me at least), but spellcheck software has made editing easier, and it's legible. My penmanship is terrible.

When it comes to reading, however, I am the opposite.

I love the idea of e-readers, having books on the go without having to carry around hefty paper copies. The downside is having to charge them. Being stranded with no way of charging your “book” would irritate me. I also dislike reading on screens for extended periods of time. My eyes start to water, I get headaches, and I like being able to detox from technology sometimes.

Something about holding a paper book is so soothing to me. Sitting down with a glass of white wine and reading a novel, feeling the paper in my hands as I flip the pages, feels more relaxing than being glued to another screen.

Both paper and technology have pros and cons, I like a little bit of both in my reading and writing lifestyle. Finding a suitable balance of what works for you is essential to be relaxed and enjoy literature.


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Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.

Jenna Matchem

Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.

Am I Organized?

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There’s an important question not too many writers ask themselves: “Am I organized?” Some of them are, with notes sorted by characters, plot, research, setting, etc. Some, however, aren’t. There are pens and pencils strewn across their desk, half-empty mugs of coffee everywhere, loose pages and snack wrappers in the drawers of their desks.

Sometimes it’s flipped. A writer can seem organized on the outside, but on their computer there are folders inside folders, all titled “untitled” with few variations. I find a mess on my desk (or in my computer) reflects into my writing, turning it all into incoherent jumbles. If this sounds anything like you, read on, dear writer. Maybe your writer's block can be broken by a clean workspace.

If you’re reading this. . . you aren’t writing. So, I’ll start with some motivation. Gather up your mugs, clean them, and make yourself a fresh pot of coffee (tea or hot chocolate work too). Feeling better already? Now take those pens and put them in something; a cheap holder, a jar, one of those clean mugs, just get them out of your way. Beautiful. Those snack wrappers need to go, that one seems easy enough, you know what to do. Finally, those loose papers will take some time. If they’re important, file them this instant. There’s no point in losing important documents. If the paper is blank, put them to good use. Make some origami, or write more notes. Just be careful they don’t pile up again!

Now that you have a clean writing space, does your mind feel clear? Mine would. Let’s get down to the tough part. Go into your writing folders. Are they a mess? Do your folders and documents look like you’ve simply slapped your keyboard and hoped for the best? Then you’ve got some work to do. This part is harder to coach from the internet. It depends on your preference, organization style, and how in-depth you want everything. I like going by projects. One big folder for the project and all the drafts, and a few small folders inside for planning documents such as character sheets and setting descriptions.

I promise: once you have these places organized it’ll be like a big breath of fresh air. No more searching for a clean mug or for the description of your character’s house that you just can’t remember where you put.

Now, all you must do is write! Best of luck!


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As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and sci-fi, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves journals and colourful pens.

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Alyssa Gelata

As a kid, Alyssa liked to dream of dragons taking over the world. Now that she’s grown up, she just writes about them. As well as writing fantasy and sci-fi, she’s a dedicated musician who also loves gaming, journals, and colourful pens.

Let's Start Writing

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Hey, writing is tough! We all know it, we’ve struggled to find the right word or attempted to bash a sentence into the right shape. Don't worry – I’m not the writing police, you can write however you want to, I’m just here to give you some tips that might help.

           I always start with an idea, as obvious as that seems to be. If you sit down at your desk without something to work from, you’re going to have an awful time. I usually write all my ideas down as soon as I can, so they aren't just floating around in my head. A prompt or a blurb will do, and it’ll make it a lot easier to organize your ideas the way you want them (hey, remember that post on organization a few days ago?).  I also Google writing prompts from time to time when the ideas I’ve already written down don’t strike the right chord with me. Either way, pick an idea that inspires you and go from there.

           Once you have an idea, put it on your page. Never, EVER leave your page blank as soon as you open your notebook, or you open a document on your computer, write something down. It can be your opening sentence, a paragraph describing your idea, an outline, a stream of nonsense, anything. It doesn’t matter what you put down, but a blank page is one of the most intimidating things any writer will ever see. Your mind will be just as bare, and there is no more frustrating feeling for a writer.

           Go into your work without expecting anything. Don’t expect perfection from yourself right away, and don’t bother editing while you work. For now, until you finish your first draft, you don’t need to worry about editing. You may see problems while you work – leave them for later. You will just drive yourself mad worrying about every little error. You don’t have to work magic every single day. But, with this in mind, you can keep working at it until it is magic.

           By no means are these tips the only way to write. They might not be how you like to write, and that’s okay – we’re all different. But, hopefully, this helps someone out there.


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Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

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Cameron Jones

Cameron Jones is a hot mess, emphasis on both “hot” and “mess.” He most often writes fantasy short stories, but sometimes writes realistic fantasy to mix things up a bit. He dislikes sunlight, sudden loud noises, and writer’s block. The most surefire way to his heart is to show him pictures of cute animals.

A Look In Our Book

Here at The Blank Notebook, we strive to provide our readers with current thoughts and ideas on what it means to be a writer today. Touching on all subjects from organization to genre, we flip through everything helpful that we’ve learned as readers and writers since picking up that first book that ever made a difference.

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Jenna Matchem

Jenna Matchem is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College. In her spare time, she can be found listening to anything from country to metal, dancing around her kitchen, or playing video games. Jenna aspires to become an author of fantasy/teen novels by the time she turns 30.