Yosemite Discovered Is Finished (Not) – Why I Love Writing Historical Fiction

Friday, October 26th, 2018     Marie Sontag     One Comment


I love writing historical fiction. I just completed the first draft of my next novel, tentatively titled, Yosemite Discovered. It’s been a labor of love spanning two years of research. Now comes the hard part—executing a deep edit my manuscript and securing an agent to find a publisher. Since Yosemite Discovered will be my fifth historical fiction novel, I decided it was time to consider why I love writing historical fiction.


Why I Love Writing Historical Fiction
I learned to hate history in elementary school when we had to memorize state capitals. I couldn’t even memorize my multiplication tables, much less state capitals. I learned to love history after I discovered it was more about people making decisions based on their beliefs, loves, hates, the past, and their perceptions of the future than it was about memorizing a list of facts and dates. Here are the top three reasons why I love writing historical fiction.

1. I Get to Time Travel
First, I like writing historical fiction because it’s a way to travel back in time—without using a time machine!

2. It’s Fun
Second, I love writing historical fiction because it’s fun. Unlike the study of factual history, a historical fiction novelist gets to imagine history from the inside—to look at what shaped an individual’s understanding of events as they occurred, without the historian’s vantage point of knowing how things actually turned out. What creative mind wouldn’t enjoy that?

As scholar-writer Richard Slotkin, author of Abe: A Novel of the Young Lincoln, explains, “Only in fiction does the historical writer have the freedom to fully imagine and represent for the reader the inner life of his or her subject—which can never be adequately documented” (Slotkin, 2000).

3. It Makes Facts Matter

Third, I love writing historical fiction because it makes facts matter. Good historical fiction uses emotion to make facts matter as readers connect with someone from the past. Valerie Tripp, a writer for American Girl, believes that historical fiction provides a “ribbon of connection” (Tripp, 2011)  between readers and characters in the story. She writes, “It awakens awareness, perks up perception, and sparks conversations” by giving readers a vicarious experience of events that actually happened. Tripp also believes it can help “tickle a moral intelligence, a mindfulness, a sense of responsibility, into being.” It makes facts matter!

I’ve decided to write a series of blogs about historical fiction. If you or anyone you know (history teachers?!) would like to receive notice of each blog’s release, simply add your name to my mailing list and I’ll make sure you get it!

1. Slotkin, Richard. “Fiction for the Purposes of History.” Common-place.org. 01, no. 1
(September 2000). http://common-place.org/book/fiction-for-the-purposes-of-history/

2. Tripp, Valerie. “Vitamins in Chocolate Cake: Why Use Historical Fiction in the Classroom?”
Teachinghistory.org (September 25, 2011). https://teachinghistory.org/nhec-blog/25172

1 Comment

  1. Sydney Avey says:

    Well said, Marie! This made me stop and think about why I write historical fiction. As a lover of words, I appreciate the way our ancestors expressed themselves. In the past, our vocabulary was rich and poetic. It is fun to capture those voices in the context of history and connect their struggles to ours in ways that can deepen our perspective of events, past and present.

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