Truth and Fiction—Bringing History to Life

© 2010 Ann H. Gabhart

In high school, one of my required courses was American History. Our teacher seemed uninspired by the idea of history—or teaching if his constant frown was any indication. Match that with a class of reluctant students and you can guess how much history I learned that year. Oh, I memorized some facts to parrot back on tests, but I totally missed the drama behind those facts and dates.

Fast forward several years and the hot genre is historical fiction. Since my dream was to be published, I thought I’d give history another try. No textbooks this time. I found books that were more than facts and dates where the writers recorded the history in such a way that I could hear the battlefield cannons booming. Quite to my surprise, I discovered I liked history. Even more I liked making up characters to drop down into those real happenings.

When I am in the head of a character headed out to battle, suddenly it’s more than a name and date on a page. Now I’m seeing one man cowering behind a tree while another pushes on in the face of sure death. I see soldiers sitting around a campfire dreaming of wives and children. I see a woman’s head leaned against an old cow’s side while she tries to strip out enough milk to feed her sick child. Create characters who live and breathe in a past era and you will make history come alive for your readers.

The best way to entice readers to follow your characters along their story journey is to remember it’s not only what a character does that matters in fiction, but how he feels. Emotions have been the same throughout time. We love and hate. We experience moments of cowardice and others of surprising bravery. We hope for the future and despair of the past. Emotions a reader knows and understands—that’s what brings a story to life no matter the era.

So I read history to learn the facts, but I feel blessed when I come across journals or letters written during whatever era I’m researching. Reading the words of a person who lived the historical time of my book helps me step into my story.

Find your history, mix in great characters, stir in lots of emotion and make your story “true.”

Ann H. Gabhart has published twenty inspirational and historical fiction books, many of them set in her home state of Kentucky. Two titles from Ann’s latest series about the Shakers were selected as finalists for ACWF and ECPA awards. Her next book, Angel Sister, is loosely based on her mother’s memories of growing up in the 1930s and will be released in February 2011. Ann has three grown children and nine wonderful grandchildren. Visit Ann at or



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