From the ancient streets of Babylon to the smoky speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, historical settings are a favorite of readers and writers alike. Whether a story is built around a significant event in history (like the Bite Me series) or simply set during a well-known period (like the equally fabulous Lackadaisy), historical fiction offers the reader a chance to get lost in a world that is at once foreign and familiar.
Extensive and intimate research is the key to using a historical setting well. If your story is set during the Napoleonic Wars, then the readers are already vaguely familiar with the world of your story. If you only tell them what they already know about your historical setting, you’re not letting the historical setting live up to its potential – and worse, you’re likely boring your reader. Instead, lead the reader into your period setting with interesting and accurate details that bring the world to life.
Obviously, you should not be so pedantic about your historic details that you turn your novel into a history lesson. The reader should be able to get a good sense of how your characters live, what kinds of work they do, and what kind of social structures they need to navigate on their way to get what they want. Even though you need to be accurate in order to create a convincing world for your reader, be careful not to get so involved with the setting that you under-develop your original ideas. The idea with historical fiction is not to tell the reader “what really happened,” but rather to tell the reader “what really could have happened.”
Well-researched historical settings give the reader an exciting, engaging tour of times long past. While major events can and should influence your narrative, intimate details about everyday life are what will make the story vivid and interesting.