Guest Post: 6 Ways to Breathe Life into Historical Characters by Harvey Chute

by - Friday, August 30, 2013

Today’s guest post comes from Harvey Chute, author of the newly-released historical mystery, Stone and Silt.” Harvey is also the founder of, the web’s largest independent Kindle forum. I asked him to give us some tips on creating interesting characters in a YA historical mystery. Read on and don't forget to enter the giveaway below. :)

Thank you so much to My Book and My Coffee for inviting me to the blog today! The challenge of creating interesting historical characters is an intriguing – and timely - topic for me. 

My first novel, Stone and Silt, was released this month. It’s a historical mystery, based in the 1860s. In writing and editing the novel, and refining it with help from my publisher’s editors, I gained some insights into how to flesh out characters into living, breathing human beings. Here are six tips!

#6. Bring out the timeless. Have you ever read a historical novel and found the characters stiff and weird? Unrelatable, perhaps? In shaping historical characters, it’s useful to remember that, yes, they’re from a different time period, but they’re not from a different species. 

Customs, costumes, and colloquialisms may change, but the essence of humanity remains constant. Just like you and me today, past historical characters yearn to love and be loved. They have family bonds, feel loyalty to friends, hold fast to dreams. The traits of a 16-year-old girl in 1860 – her curiosities, daydreams, insecurities, vanities, parental frustrations, sibling rivalries – would be easily recognized by her 2013 counterparts. What makes her laugh? Probably the same type of things that make today’s teens laugh. 

Don’t draw your characters as foreign objects just because they’re from another time period. Tap into their humanity.

#5. Who’s feeling motivated? Answer: everyone! Each character, major or minor, needs motives that drive their actions. Motives can be altruistic – a longing, an aspiration– as well as dark – fear, vengefulness, greed.

Why is your protagonist acting as she does? And why is your villain so… well, villainous? 

This applies to secondary as well primary characters. Bring out what’s driving the actions of your characters, and it helps your readers relate to them as real people.

#4. Minutiae matters. Your research can uncover tiny details of life that add realism and credibility to your story—and your characters. 

When people sat down for dinner in the 1860s, what did their forks look like? Why, the fork of the two-tine variety, thank you very much. Did they use toothbrushes? Or wipe their teeth with cloth rags? Eating, bathing, transportation, and other small matters of life all present opportunities to add realistic details. 

Work these details subtly into your novel to help make your story ring true. 

#3. Consult the experts. Your job as an author is to never disrupt your reader’s suspension of disbelief. Don’t let an anachronism or other inaccuracy pull your reader out of your story’s world.

In my case, I sent a draft of the manuscript to an old friend – a First Nations woman that I knew in my teen years. I had specific scenes of native Indian culture that I asked her to review for accuracy. She was able to guide me through the intricacies of the old ceremonies and healing traditions of First Nations culture. Her help was invaluable in keeping the scene true-to-life and historically accurate.

#2. Describe… but not too much. All of your research will make you an expert (well, near-expert anyway) on your time period. Resist the urge to weigh down your story with all of your newfound knowledge. Pick and choose a few details. No reader cares how much you know, or how hard you’ve worked on your research.

Length passages of description are passé and tempt your readers to put the book down, or start skimming. Do your readers a favor and let them fill in the details with their own imagination. 

#1. Engage all senses. Help your characters come alive by putting yourself into their shoes – or better yet, into their skin. In key scenes, what are they hearing? Feeling? Smelling? Tasting? Bring that out, and soon that magical transformation will take place… where your characters become fully in-the-flesh and start breathing on their own.

Harvey Chute is on blog tour for his newly released historical mystery novel, Stone and Silt. 

Learn more about Stone and Silt

Stone and Silt by Harvey Chute

A ruthless murder and a stolen shipment of gold.

At school, sixteen-year-old Nikaia Wales endures the taunts of bullies who call her a “half-breed.” At home, she worries about how her family will react if she reveals her growing feelings for the quiet boy next door.

Those are soon the least of her troubles. Nikaia discovers a hidden cache of gold, and when police find a corpse nearby, her father becomes a suspect. Worse, Elias Doyle is circling, hungry to avenge his brother’s death.

Nikaia desperately searches for clues to save her father. In her quest to find the killer, she learns about the power of family, friendship, and young love.
Book Trailer: 

About the Author: 

Harvey Chute grew up in the Fraser Canyon village of Lytton, British Columbia – a town rich in native culture and colonial gold rush history.

In his high school and university years, Harvey spent his summers guiding whitewater raft trips on the Thompson and Fraser rivers.

He works as a program manager for an Information Technology consulting firm. Harvey also created the web’s largest independent Kindle user forum,, which is popular with both readers and authors.

Harvey lives in Bellingham, Washington, with his wife, three daughters, a lovable golden retriever, and a stern cat. He enjoys walking mountain trails, learning blues guitar, and being surrounded by great books.

Harvey’s previously published works include five technical guides in the “For Dummies” series by Wiley Inc.
Connect with Harvey: Website | Facebook Page | Goodreads

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4 Dazzling Comments

  1. Thank you so much for having me as a guest poster today! I enjoy MBAMC and the good books that you find - - keep 'em coming!

    1. Hi Harvey :) You are very welcome. Thank you for your time today. That's so good to know. :D

  2. As someone who is researching for a YA historical mystery, I find these posts interesting. Great post!

    1. Hi Kimberly! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, I agree with you. I find Harvey's post to be really interesting. :)