Advice on How to Write Historical Fiction–Not

Writing is easy, writing well is less so.

Since I didn’t begin to learn English until I was 15 years old, it’s been an interesting and uphill struggle to put words on page. Every time I launch into prose, I hear Professor Henry Higgins berating me—

By right she should be taken out and hung,
For the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.

Therefore I felt a particular tingle of pleasure  (yes, I am that shallow) to encounter this “Sample Historical Fiction Dialogue,” contained in on-line advice on ‘how to write historical fiction.’

Sample of historical fiction dialogue


The posting reassures one that the advice is actually ‘expert reviewed’ by an “MFA candidate in Creative Writing.”

By the way, did anyone notice that there has been much ‘how-to’ and ‘advice’ offered lately on writing historical fiction ? A perusal of the ‘literature’—and I confess to have done my share—finds that some is  more ‘creative’ than others. More on that perhaps later…

So…given the fact that the ‘advice’ was vetted by an ‘MFA candidate in Creative Writing,’ I thought to turn it into a bit of ‘creative editing’ of my own. And yes, I am that shallow…

The words Hello I Am An Expert written on a red nametag or sticker for a consultant or other business professional to wear and solicit new clients and business for his firm or practice


 [The Story of a Dead Dog, Five ‘as’-es, and Maybe a Dog-headed Man and some Snakes]

“What in tarnation…” [our hero is a polite one for reasons to be discovered below] said Jack to himself [this can be omitted completely]  as [#1] he hurriedly to [oh dear] put his pants on [split? but excusable; still, why wasn’t he wearing pants? Wait for it…]  and buckle [tense, tense !] his holster around his waist.

His dog, Ranger, [since the dog is also named below, can omit the name, or vice versa] must have sensed something too as [#2] it [is the dog an it or is it a he or a she?] started barking, pawing at the door [comma?] trying to get out.  [One presumes he was trying to get out rather than in, in which case pawing at the door should be enough].

“Ranger, [yes, we know his name is Ranger] down boy [we now know it’s a he not an it] ,” shot Jack firmly [did Jack just shoot his dog, and ‘firmly’ at that?] as [#3] he tied a leash to Ranger’s [yes, we know the dog’s name is Ranger.…] collar. [Does Jack plan to drag his dead dog by the leash?]

“If a fight’s what they want, a fight’s what they’ll get,,” [no commas, not even two, please] he said as [#4] he finished up [Finished up what? The above action of tying the leash was a completed action] and stroked his furry dog’s head [so, Jack in fact had a dog’s head—which was furry. Or the dead dog was furry? Or the dead dog’s head was furry, as opposed to what? Mangy? Bald? Shaved? Dogs usually have furry heads, even dead ones, no?]

He reached for his shotgun [Who? Ranger did? Depends on whose furry head we are talking about, doesn’t it? ] and his wide-brimmed hat [to cover up his furry head?] before giving the cabin one last look-around [action sequence—first put on the hat, then look around]

Then, with a deep breath, he opened the cabin door and stepped outside [yes, one presumes he stepped outside. He wouldn’t have stepped inside, would he? In fact, we don’t need the ‘stepped’ at all]

The harsh midday sun shone bright [as opposed to shining darkly?] but Jack Preacher [head hop?] did not look away. [Was he staring at the sun?]

Ranger [yes, still Ranger even though he was shot previously and was presumably dragged out the door] barked at the riders [we gather then that Jack Preacher was looking at the sun since he had not noticed the riders until Ranger did, despite being shot], who seemed oblivious to the canine [as opposed to a feline? Since they were oblivious, were they deaf?]

The leash tugged at Preacher’s grip, [that is one magic leash] his fist all tensed up just like his jaw. [do you ‘tense’ a fist or do you ‘clench’ it? Can you ‘tense’ a jaw?]

“Gentlemen,” said Preacher, nodding his head to the mounted strangers [wasn’t he staring at the sun? Anyway, we know they were mounted because they were called ‘riders’]

“Jack Preacher,” said the rider on the right [whose right?] with a low grumbling [he just got there. Why is he grumbling about it? Was he saddle sore?] voice [did he say it ‘in’ a ‘rumbling’ or ‘grumbling’ voice?]. “I see that you are still above snakes.” [were there serpents about  the place and was Jack Preacher given to hovering above them?]

The other riders all snickered menacingly [how did they manage to do that?] except the one on the left [whose left?], who seemed to be eyeing [was he or wasn’t he?] Jack’s rifle [shotgun?] with caution. The rider with the low rumbling [aha!] voice started again. [started again what? His horse? A car?]

“The auger sent us here, in case you were wonderin’,” [was it a Roman soothsayer or a drill bit that sent them?  If I were Jack, I’d be wondering myself] said the rider [is that the aforementioned rider? Then why mention him…again] as [#5] he spat on the ground.[‘as’ in talking and spitting at the same time?]  Jack noticed everyone else except him dismounting. [good for Jack to notice that everyone was dismounting except who? Who’s him? Was Jack dismounting? Was he dismounting from the snakes above which he continued to hover?]

“So,” answered Jack Preacher. [was there a question? I don’t remember a question; and isn’t that ‘so’ a bit too—now?]

All eyes were on him. [Are those the dismounted eyes?]

“Let’s dance.” [aha! The purpose of the visit is revealed at last!]

The End

About Hana Samek Norton

I am a historian who writes 'history with a story' in off-duty hours.
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