Dear readers, please help me welcome M.K. Tod, author of the newly released novel, Unravelled, to Passages to the Past. M.K. is here today to talk about our favorite subject, historical fiction, and she is also generously offering up one copy of her novel as a giveaway!
Take it away, M.K.....
Ingredients of favorite historical fiction ~ by M.K. Tod
The 2012 survey I conducted showed that the top three reasons people read historical fiction are to bring the past to life, to enjoy a great story and to understand and learn. But what is the magic formula that makes the very best historical fiction stand out?
In his book Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers, James W. Hall sets out twelve ingredients that drive bestsellers to the top of the charts. Hall examined blockbuster novels like Gone With the Wind, Jaws, The Da Vinci Code, To Kill a Mocking Bird, and The Godfather before concluding that best sellers incorporate the following: (1) an offer you can’t refuse (the fundamentals of good story telling), (2) controversy of the day, (3) colossal characters doing magnificent things on a sweeping stage, (4) America as paradise, (5) an abundance of facts and information, (6) inner workings of a secret society, (7) bumpkins versus city slickers, (8) God sells, (9) re-enactment of American national myths, (10) rebels, loners, misfits and mavericks, (11) fractured families, and (12) sex.
As I read Hall’s book, the question in my mind was whether the same ingredients apply to historical fiction. Over the past year of reading books written by top historical fiction authors as well as book reviews concerning their work and interviewing some of these authors on my blog, I’ve developed ten ingredients for success.
1. Superb writing. Similar to Hall’s first feature – an offer you can’t refuse – this ingredient covers prose, pacing, emotional resonance, plot twists and entertainment value. Table stakes for high quality fiction of any genre.
2. Dramatic arc of historical events. In essence, successful authors are masters at finding and selecting what Hilary Mantel calls ‘the dramatic shape in real events’.
3. Characters both heroic and human. Readers want to experience famous figures as believable characters complete with doubts and flaws. Readers also seek stories showing every day people accomplishing heroic tasks in times so different from today.
4. Immersed in time and place. Activating all senses, authors like Sharon Kay Penman, Bernard Cornwell, Margaret George and others transport readers to another era from the very first paragraphs of their novels.
5. Corridors of power. Whether ancient Rome, Tudor England or the American Civil War, best selling novels expose the structure, corruption and machinations of monarchy, military, religion, law, nobility, and upper-class society.
6. Authentic and educational. Readers love to learn. The hallmark of a top historical fiction author is meticulous research followed by carefully chosen information to create a seamless blend of history and story.
7. Ageless themes. Instead of Hall’s 'controversy of the day', favorite historical fiction dramatizes thought-provoking themes that are as important today as they were long ago.
8. High stakes. Life, kingdoms, epic battles, fortunes, marriage, family. In historical fiction, characters risk on a grand scale.
9. Love and sex. Men and women from long ago rarely chose their partners. Love was often thwarted. Women were pawns. Favorite authors incorporate this type of conflict. In addition, sex is frequently depicted as a turning point in the lives of heroes and heroines.
10. Dysfunctional families. Kings beheading their queens, brothers killing brothers, daughters betrothed at the age of six, incest, rivalry between father and son, wives banished or locked away – merely a few examples of dysfunctional family life that are the subjects of successful historical fiction.
So ... that's my take at the top ten ingredients of best selling historical fiction. I would truly appreciate hearing your thoughts!
M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One Marriage. is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and other e-retailers. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.
About the Book
Publication Date: August 15, 2013
In October 1935, Edward Jamieson's memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward's past puts his present life in jeopardy.
When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage.
With events unfolding in Canada, France and England, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.
Passages to the Past has one copy of Unravelled up for grabs. The giveaway is open internationally and ends on October 7. To enter, please complete the form below.
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