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I want to write about a historical incident. So, to make it more appealing to the reader, I want to write it from a first person perspective. The concerned person is an important part of the incident. How can I achieve this without undermining the historical authenticity?

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My genre of choice as a writer is historical fiction so I've been studying the subject for quite some time.

Most novels embrace fiction over historical accuracy, whether the main character is fictional or historical. The idea is that historical accuracy cannot stand in the way of an entertaining tale. However, some authors that make this choice also strive to be 'historically authentic', i.e. they try to transmit the right feel of the historical time and events.

If one wants to be as historically accurate and authentic as possible, there are two main options:

  1. write a non-fiction book and keep to the facts

  2. write fiction but respect the facts as much as possible

    • within this point, one can work mainly with fictional characters who represent the average person of the time

    • one can choose historical characters and try to reconstruct their personality from historical sources (a king who executed a lot of his nobles was probably not the nicest guy, though he might have a soft spot towards... his hunting dogs)

When one decides to have a historical figure for one's main character, it is important to remember that no one can really tell what the person felt and thought (unless there is a journal around). What one can and should do is to carefully and responsibly guess what the person may have felt and thought.

When a writer doesn't feel right making that guess, it's always preferably to have a fictional main character that witnesses the events or maybe even the actions of the historical figures. However, even if one chooses to write about King Henry VIII from the POV of the cleaning staff, one still has to invent much about the historical figure. Once more, one needs to be careful to respect what is known, what is guessed and what is a blank for the writer to fill in seamlessly.


EDIT

Sorry, lost track of the last question.

How can I achieve this without undermining the historical authenticity?

Reasearch. You should research the historical figure and try to figure out their motives and goals, what they valued and cherished, what they despised, and what they feared.

I work mostly within the medieval period and this can sometimes be difficult, but look at their biography. What big (and small) events could have impacted them as they grew up? Can you establish a connection between the teenager boy that had illegitimate siblings as his rivals and the fact he grew up to have no known lovers in a time when most in his social class had one?

Once you can have a mental picture of what (possibly) made that person tick, then you can get yourself within their shoes and make them believable human beings. More than a first-person perspective, believable characters is what will appeal to the readers.

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Any writing idea or inspiration you create from within your heart is a good idea. Regardless of point of view, the key is the skill level to translate that inspiration to something that intrigues and hooks the reader’s attention.

Without undermining historical authenticity, write a fictional story based on true events, using your fictional characters.

For example: Writing a story from the perspective of a union solider in the battle of Gettysburg. The solider in the story and narrating from his/her first person view is fictional but the battle is a real historical event.

A much darker example: A fictional student who narrates the story and experience of the Columbine school shooting.

The key here is integrating the real incident with your fictional protagonist's personal journey of growth or the story plot.

The main character has a goal. There has to be something that opposes that goal. Along the way toward achieving the goal and enduring conflict, the incident occurs as a means to move the plot forward.

In the end the main character may change and learn something new or remain steadfast against all the outside forces which tried to change him/her.

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I'm not entirely clear on the question. Are you inserting historical facts into a work of fiction or simply writing non-fiction?

First person historical non-fiction contains an inherent flaw. It undermines the suspension of disbelief. No matter how real your recollection of Gettysburg address . . . I know that you weren't actually there.

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I believe you should do what ever you want.

Writing is basically an art, just as some artists they twisted the rules and came up with styles. If you want to write a first person historic. Go for it.

  • With writing you aren't kept in a box. Writing is just like your imagination... Your imagination goes wild, so can your writing.

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