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Monday, December 07, 2015

Using History in Your Novel - Guest Post with Jill Williamson

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. After twenty-five years of marriage, she and her hunky hero husband have a full life with their children, a Maltese Menace, and a retired military working dog in Northern Virginia. She can be found at:
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Reviewers call Ronie's epic fantasy, EMBERS, "Simply amazing!" 

There are certain authors within the publishing industry who are genuine and genuinely interested in helping other authors succeed in their craft. They impact lives and stories, they champion others the way we all should. Today I have the great pleasure of sharing with you, one such woman who has encouraged me and even endorsed a very early, very rough version of Embers. I count it an honor to know her and was so glad when she agreed to share some of her writerly wisdom with you today. Please welcome. . . Jill Williamson!

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History is a part of any novel, no matter the genre. Earth has a history. Characters have histories. Towns, buildings, and organizations do to. History adds understanding and depth to life. Why does a person behave a certain way? What shapes culture? Often times the answer is: the past.

When I’m brainstorming a new novel, I want my world to have a vivid history, I want my characters to have life-shaping pasts, and I want the two to intersect and impact the future. For example, my grandfather fought in World War II (world history). At seventeen, he lied and said he was eighteen to join the Marines (character) and was shipped out to Guadalcanal (intersection). His experience there greatly influenced his life, which influenced the lives of his kids, which influenced the lives of his grandkids (impacting the future).

History is a force.

Whether you are writing fantasy, contemporary romance, or a psychological thriller, how can you use history in your novel? Here’s what I do:

Create a timeline: Depending on the genre, plot, and scope of your novel, your timeline could be in hours, days, months, years, or even decades. Regardless, I create a file in Microsoft Word and create style headings for each point in time, then jot down what happened beside it. This makes it easier for me to click through the timeline, should it become really big. It also gives me a handy place to come back and plant plot devices to help develop my characters and world.

Write it out: Writing a historical narrative for your story can really get the creativity rolling. This is often pre-writing that won’t end up in the final book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. As you think about how certain events shape cultures and people it can help you better understand your storyworld and the characters who live there.

Complicate the past: Look for ways you can add conflict to your history. When you have different cultures or people, you have different ways of looking at things. Sometimes historical events are remembered differently. In my Kinsman Chronicles, I created several versions of one prophecy. Different religions in different countries interpreted the prophecy differently, which created conflicting motivations between the followers of each interpretation.

Don’t use it: Fight the urge cut and paste into your story the fabulous history you wrote. Instead, tell your character’s story and let the history come out if and when it needs to. This will keep you from info-dumping backstory and history into your book where it stalls your story.

Add plot conflicts: Look at your history and ask yourself what kinds of current-day conflicts have you already set up? Is there a misunderstanding in the past? A threat to your world/characters/business/organization? Is trouble/war brewing? For example, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch has been causing strife long before the Pevensies arrive. The children enter a troubled Narnia with a complicated history and find they can change it! Be careful not to go too far inventing history. Have a purpose for it. Focus on the conflict you are trying to set up. You only need enough to history to help you tell your story. Look to our own planet for inspiration. Earth has a fascinating, complex history. So should your world.

How do you use history in writing your novels? Share any tips you have in the comments. 

FREE! Jill's Darkness Reigns (The Kinsman Chronicles): Part 1 is available now free for digital download!

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several fantasy novels including the Blood of Kings trilogy, the Safe Lands trilogy, and the Kinsman Chronicles. She's a Whovian, a Photoshop addict, and a recovering fashion design assistant, who was raised in Alaska. She blogs for teen writers at You can also visit her online at

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Jill. I love your perspective and good advice.


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