Hi I'm thinking about writing a romance novel that took place between the 1950s and 60s. The setting is in Kenya, Africa from the Mau Mau uprising against Britain until indepence. Could you kindly suggest how I can put that into words Thank you
Yeah dude, you know we can’t do your research for you, right? You know you’re going to have to spend many, many hours doing that research, right? So, how do you get started? And I hope I can assume this is a topic about which you are passionate because, done right, a project like this will by necessity consume you.
Everything you need to know about what you need to know can be found in this Goodreads summary about one of the best-selling historical novels ever, Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. It’s set in 12th century England and the overarching story is about the construction of the finest cathedral ever.
Sounds fascinating, yeah? No. Not to most people, at least not that they think. It’s the detail and research and craftsmanship – and oddly, the relatability – that’s made it a bestseller for longer than most of you reading this have been alive.
Follett, btw, began his writing career as a journalist; he got bored, went into publishing and began writing his own stuff on nights and weekends. The result: He’s sold more than 150 MILLION MOTHERFUCKING BOOKS in not quite 40 years.
But let’s break down the book summary into what you’ll need to know to write:
1. It’s incredibly detailed, in both natural and human scenery
2. It incorporates the Big Historic Events and People of the time period
3. It incorporates the small, personal events of the characters – things that might be unique to the time and culture and yet are universal to the human experience
4. There are many intriguing characters. We get to know their dreams, their labors and their loves.
5. Characters are shaped by details about their place in society.
6. There’s a damn good plot – betrayal, revenge and love – which is probably why the dude’s sold 150 million motherfucking books; this one alone has sold more than 18 million.
You need to be organized. This post here has good ideas and a list for getting started. Everyone’s method is going to be different, but if you need a place to start setting up your system, you could do much worse.
If you aren’t already, you need to familiarize yourself with the primary, secondary and tertiary sources for the information you need. Once you dive down this rabbit hole, you’ll be well along the way to being able to find what you need to fill out your descriptions and your characters. Take notes. Keep track of your research and your sources.
Never, ever forget that you aren’t writing a textbook. Historical fiction author Lindsey Davis has this advice and it cannot be stressed enough:
“You are not writing history. You are writing a novel. This requires you to master plot, characterisation, dialogue, narrative tone and description. Note that nowhere in my list do the words ‘research’ or ‘history’ appear.”
(quote found in this book, which you might also find helpful.)
This is discussed elsewhere at length, and this blog can help more than we can, but please for the love of the stars do not whitewash or appropriate the culture of your setting. Don’t get caught up in white savior nonsense, a particular pitfall about stories set in Colonial and soon-to-be-post Colonial Africa.
As we’ve mentioned many times before, the best way to write a good story that doesn’t fall into these traps is to write fully realized, well-rounded characters in a setting for which you’ve given your blood, sweat and tears to research.
– mod Aliya