Avoiding the “Greats” in Historical Fiction

Honour Among Thieves - smallerThere are two different ways to approach historical fiction – you can depict famous people, or you can show someone obscure. I almost always do the latter, making up someone or, as in the case of “Honour Among Thieves“, featuring an obscure figure about whom little is known.

It’s a deliberate choice. Depicting famous people creates a lot more work, as there’s more evidence about their lives, and so it’s far easier to get something wrong by missing out on part of what’s known. But there’s more to my choice than that. Most of us aren’t “great” players on the world stage. Most people in the past weren’t either. To reflect the realities of the time it’s often necessary to step back from those famous figures and focus on ordinary people. That way you get a better feel for what life would really be like. And of course you have the freedom to do with their lives as you will – if you invented a character then no-one can tell you that you got her life or death wrong.

There are famous historical figures I’d like to write about one day. But for now, I’ll mostly stick with obscurity.