Search This Blog

Historical Story Skeleton

Previously, we examined Historical fiction subgenres. This week, we will dissect the building blocks that make up the historical novel.

The overall story problem in this genre explores an event from the past

The reader asks. "What was it like and how did it change things?"

For the purposes of Story Building Blocks, it can involve historical characters in a historical situation, historical characters in fictional situations, or fictional characters in historical situations.


There can be elements of Romance, Mystery, Thriller, Science Fiction, or Fantasy, but the overall story problem focuses on the historical situation with emphasis on a point in history. It can shed new light, debunk old theories, or twist history in an unusual way.

The art of the Historical novel lies in the details.  Creating a 3-D story world enriches the plot. Your story world must be true to the time, place, and people involved. You must research the customs, culture, and knowledge of the period to make it believable.
There will be fact-checking nitpickers out there ready to tear your authenticity apart.

Thankfully, there are myriad resources for research and access has never been easier. Helpful authors have provided guides to different historical periods, including costuming, weapons, manners, and morals. There are online databases to mine, maps to view, and even CGI recreations of places. If your local library lacks references, there are online resources to make up for it.

Good historical stories follow a traditional story arc of a main character that wants something and fights to get it: freedom, government, law and order, peace, war, revolution, social change, influence, or power.


In Historical stories, the protagonist can be a historical person or a fictional character in a historical setting.

The antagonist in the Historical saga offers stiff opposition. He or she can be a Confederate general, Nazi spy, Roman Emperor, or rival Queen. It can be a congressman or a sailor or a corrupt plantation owner.

External Conflict scenes reveal the historical situation in which the actual or fictional characters are involved. These are the battlefield scenes, the meetings of great minds to debate passing a bill. It could be a war, a political coup, a great debate, a ball or dance, an afternoon tea, an election, a business transaction, a slave auction, a lecture, a plantation house fire, or a meeting of Suffragettes. These are the battle scenes, the senate speeches, or the ship leaves for the New World. They include the inciting event and series of encounters that lead up to and include the final decisive event.

Antagonist Conflict scenes follow the opposing forces, the Union leader versus the Confederate leader, the assassin planning to shoot the president, or the congressman accepting bribes. They involve either the protagonist facing off against the antagonist on opposite sides of the argument or battlefield or the antagonist plotting and scheming on his own if you follow his point of view. The antagonist is often explored in this type of story, allowing you an opportunity to argue the opposite thematic point.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes can enrich the central theme with arguments both for and against the issue being explored: slavery, north versus south, England versus Scotland, Aborigines versus settlers, women’s suffrage, or worker’s rights. You can illustrate the shades of gray, how an outcome is good for some but bad for others. The friends and foes take sides, work to achieve their own goals, and shape the outcome by their aid or interference.

Internal Conflict scenes follow the protagonist as he debates the morality of his decisions. He is motivated by love, hate, fear, or revenge. Other people can be present, but this is his personal dilemma, the backstory of how he came to be involved, or the emotional price he will pay for upsetting the status quo. This is the war of allegiance to family, lovers, friends, or political groups. He could be dealing with the death of a loved one, a miscarriage of justice, or conflicting ties that make participating in the larger battle difficult.

For help with building the Historical novel, check out the Historical Build A Plot Workbook and the Build A World Workbook.

Next week, we will take a look at Horror Story subgenres.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

No comments:

Post a Comment