7 Top Historical Fiction Writing Mistakes

Updated on October 12, 2019
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

Here I give seven of the top mistakes writers make when crafting a historical fiction. I break each one down below:

  1. Technology and Advancements
  2. Language
  3. Timetable
  4. Wrong Names
  5. No Research
  6. Not Enough Detail
  7. Society

1) Technology/Advancements

The items and abilities in the book have to match the times. Cars can’t be mentioned in a book set in the 1800s. Electric lights in the homes should not be in your story set in 1756. Seriously, people do this.

I was reading a book set back in the early pre-Roman days of Britain. As I was reading it, I felt as though it was really set in the 1700 or 1800s. Nothing was reminiscent of the days when Christianity was first introduced. I struggled reading the book because of this. I noted it in my review. The book should have had better content editing done.

The period writers are focusing on needs to be researched extensively. This research should include clothing, hairstyles, life at home, transportation, and new inventions. The reader has to think they are there in that time period to enjoy the story.

2) Language

The language has to match the times. I’m not talking about writing in the right dialect or anything which many historical fiction writers do, but don’t use words that didn’t exist in that time period. That means slang and references to events or technology that only exists in today’s world. Keep it true to the period.

That being said, you don’t have to write in the exact same language as the period. For many writers and readers that can become very cumbersome as it can be hard to follow. Some writers prefer to be true to the period and keep the dialects for the reader. Personally, I can’t stand reading books that do that as I have to read the dialogue out loud to understand what they are saying.

Costume descriptions must be accurate for historical fiction to read realistically.
Costume descriptions must be accurate for historical fiction to read realistically.

3) Timetable

If you are going to write historical fiction, you need to get your timetable of events correct. For example, if you are writing a story set during the American Revolution, you do not have the Boston Tea Party happening after the first shots are fired to start the war. You need to get the events correct even if they are only used as fillers in the story.

Avid historical fiction fans know their history better than you might think. If they see something mixed up in the timing of events, they might put your book down and give you an immediate bad review. You don’t mess with the timeline of history.

Were there carriages or another form of transportation in the era you're describing?
Were there carriages or another form of transportation in the era you're describing?

4) Wrong Names

Just like events, you have to get the names right. Don’t call Napoleon’s wife any other name but Josephine. You need to have the right names given to the right people. That is only right if you are trying to write a story, even a fiction one, set in a specific time period. Do your research carefully.

5) No Research

It is obvious in a historical fiction read when the author hasn’t done any research. The story might be good, but the reader will put it down if the historical information is not accurate. That includes the description of the outfits, the hairstyles, and the buildings. You cannot just say the character held a gun. You need to know the make of it during that time period and how it looked. Extensive research is needed and will give your story much more depth.

6) No Detail

Historical fiction needs to have details of scenes and characters. The dress has to be described right as well as the carriage or car. The more detail you can give to certain objects, the more credibility as a historical fiction writer you will garner. That means lots of research. Gather info including visual aids to help you get it just right. If you can visit a real site do so to get the feel for the scene and more accurate description.

Is the architecture on point for the time period.
Is the architecture on point for the time period.

7) Society

You need to get society just right. It doesn’t matter how wrong it was. You need to keep with the times unless you tell the reader upfront that you are rewriting history. In Southern America during the early 1800s, you will not find a black man as an accepted member of high society. He will not own property or have legal rights. A story during that time needs to show that.


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