History In Stories

Do you like history? I do.

I love historical fiction. My favourite remains The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey which crosses history with a detective story. (Worth checking out if you’re interested in Richard III).

Taking time to work out what you need to know first before writing the story does pay off.  Pixabay.

One thing I love about flash fiction is because it must be character led, I can set said characters wherever I want. I’ve written historical flash fiction pieces and implied history with other stories. I’ve also written tales which give nods to famous historical works. Even if you don’t know the characters or background to those works, my stories still make sense. They make more sense if you do know.

And what do you need to know that the reader doesn't? Pixabay image

Even with a fantastical flash tale, I’ve implied the history of the fantastical character or setting. A line or two is enough usually to give a flavour of the setting, which is all that is needed here.

Whatever we write, our characters have a history, though not all is shown in the story we present to a reader.  I have to outline my characters and know some of their history before I can write about them.  I find the Scrivener short story character and setting templates useful for this but you can create your own. You need to work out what it is you need to know about your characters first.

I don’t outline every detail. I look at major traits, faults and virtues. Once I’ve got those, away I go. Once a character takes off for you, they will take off for future readers.

I outline my characters and some of their history, what I think I need to know.  Pixabay

So what aspect to your character’s past would you find good to know? What secrets do you think they are keeping? What part of their past would they not want  to talk about to anyone and why? What would happen if someone did find out? “Interviewing” your characters can be a great way to outline them so you know them inside out.

The difficulty can be in working out what not to put into the story itself. How much do the readers need to know? It is enormous fun working out my characters like this. The temptation to share it all can be overwhelming but I’ve found I have to be realistic and remember the readers don’t care whether my character has a life long aversion to blue socks because…

What they will want to know, for example, is that character is a hypocrite of the first order and how that manifests itself so they come to this conclusion naturally.

I've found having an outline has saved me time later on because I don't go off at tangents for one thing. Pixabay.

But those histories you’ve created for your characters, the bits you couldn’t include - what can you do with them? Can you use some of this as background information on your website?

Can you work out what it is you really need to know about any character and cut straight to the chase the next time you outline a piece? Realising what you didn’t really need to know can also be useful. It saves you time when creating the next story.

What stays IN your book or story must be of critical importance and grip your readers. Pixabay


  1. I also love The Daughter of Time and have never been able to look at Richard III the same way again. Also The Franchise Affair. A really interesting piece to wake up to this morning.

  2. That tip about interviewing your characters is really helpful as are many of the others. Thanks, Allison.

    1. You're most welcome, Fran. Interviewing your characters is great fun!


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