This competition is now closed but you are still welcome to read through the published writing and blog posts.
The Book Thief
has been an international phenomenon since it was published a decade ago. What makes this novel so riveting? Put simply, the characters infuse a historical time period with life, making real events and tragedies feel, well… real.
And this is the power of historical fiction. “Novelists,” wrote the Italian writer Alessandro Manozoni, back in 1850, convey “not just the bare bones of history, but something richer, more complete…. [they] put the flesh back on the skeleton that is history.”
This month, dear writers, we invite you to put the flesh back on this skeleton that is history
. In short story form
, take your readers back in time through the eyes of a real or imagined historical character.
The job of a historical fiction writer, says Hilary Mantel (whose own historical fiction won the Man Booker Prize) is to “unfreeze antique feeling, unlock the emotion stored and packed tight in paper, brick and stone." How does a writer go about this tremendous task? Here are some tips:
- Historical Detail. Make the time period feel real to the reader through day-to-day details. If you’re writing about a 15-year-old in 1939 Paris, find out what she would likely eat for breakfast, how she’d get to school, what she’d listen to on the radio.
- Place. Invite the reader back in time by describing the setting. What does North Sydney look like in 1914? What does the air smell like in Liverpool during the Industrial Revolution? In 4000 BCE, how does the sound of the Indus River change with seasonal floods? Through sensory details, allow your reader to experience the physical world of your story.
- Influence. How did a historical event (or series of events) impact your character? As you develop your story, make sure your character is not only existing in this historical period, but that she or he is actually struggling with the surrounding world. This struggle (a.k.a. conflict!) will likely take shape internally and externally. An 18-year-old in 1943 might fret over whether to apply to university or join the war effort (internal), and this struggle may lead to an argument with his father (external). Remember that the depth of human emotion has existed throughout history—let the reader feel how events impact your character’s spirit.
- Voice and Tone. Perhaps the trickiest task! After you’ve sketched out the feelings and thoughts of your character, begin to hone in on a particular tone appropriate to the character, his or her world and the historical situation at hand. If possible, read books, articles and diaries published during the time period of your story. Alternatively, find historical fiction or a film that takes place during the same era. As much as you can, research and immerse yourself in the period before trying your hand at crafting a convincing voice.
- Other Ears. Find willing readers! Getting feedback on the accuracy and authenticity of your historical fiction story will be of great help to you as you revise your work. If you’re lucky enough to know individuals who were alive during the period you’re writing about, ask them to read your draft. Better yet, get them to share their stories, listening for interesting details, characters, and events.
Gabrielle Wang is an award-winning author and illustrator born in Melbourne, Australia, of Chinese heritage. Her stories are a blend of Chinese and Western culture with a touch of fantasy. Little Paradise
, her celebrated historical fiction novel, tells the love story of an Australian-Chinese couple during World War II.
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant will receive $100, and the runner-up and best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday April 11th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
April 4: Competition Opens
April 11: Submit draft for Expert Review (optional)
April 14: Reviews returned to Writers
April 19: Final Submissions
April 29: Winners Announced
Profile Feature Writing Opens Monday, May 2.
Stay tuned for more details!