Dear Dr Darwin My characters don’t think they sound historical, but their present-day isn’t my present-day: they are Other to us. If I make them sound like 21st century people then the novel will just be like a modern film in pretty period costumes, but if I try to write the novel as it would […]
Dr. Darwin's Writing Tips
Historia’s inimitable agony aunt, Dr Darwin answers your questions about the craft of historical writing.
Distressed by dialogue? Got your timelines in a tangle? Buried by your bibliography? Then this is the place for you.
Got a question for Dr Darwin? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t promise a reply but all questions will be considered for future columns.
Dear Dr Darwin, I’ve found a gripping set of historical events that I want to build a novel round, and before you start shaking your Tudor bonnet, it’s not because I have a non-fiction agenda: this is a glorious concatenation of politics, faith, personalities, clothes, weapons and all the other things that make historical fiction […]
Dear Dr Darwin, I know we have to get the facts right, or risk the reader not buying into their side of the contract of fiction, but I do get so fed up with having to fact-check the whole time. When I sit down to write, I have stacks of books and files of images, […]
Dear Dr Darwin You’ve talked elsewhere about finding the “white space between the facts” on which we can write, and I think I’ve found a time and place – the run-up to Waterloo – which gives me (just about) enough white space for fiction. But I’m finding it very hard to write anything on those […]
Dear Dr Darwin, I’ve been writing short stories and contemporary-set fiction for years, but recently I fell madly in love with a real historical character: a fascinating, forceful, charming person, Jocelyn, who was deeply involved in the big dramas of the day. I know I want to write a novel, not a biography, and I’ve […]
Dear Dr Darwin, You keep saying “make it vivid and convincing”, but how do I do that? When I put in lots of detail my writers’ circle say it slows up the story; when I cut it back they say they don’t believe in the places. When I make my characters act/think/react differently from how […]
Dear Dr Darwin, I’m writing a novel set in medieval Mallorca, and I’m a draft-by-the-seat-of-my-pants writer, not a planner. My business partner says it’s inefficient to do the research until I’ve written my first draft and know what I need. My critiquing partner says it’s asking for trouble to do the writing first and leave […]
Dear Dr Darwin, When a wartime-set story is all, “So I put the gravy browning on my legs as I drank my Camp coffee and sang along to Glenn Miller,” or similar? It’s so unsubtle that it ruins my immersion in the story. I know it makes sense to use things that I think lots of […]