Writing Fiction about a Historical Figure: 6 Pros and Cons by Cindy Fazzi

Writing Fiction about a Historical Figure - Six Pros and Cons:

a guest post by Cindy Fazzi

Writing a novel about a historical figure is both challenging and exhilarating. At least, that was my experience when I wrote My MacArthur, a novel about General Douglas MacArthur, the iconic World War II leader, and his little-known love affair with a young Filipino actress in the 1930s.  Let’s break down the pros and cons of writing about historical characters.

Three Advantages

1. Readers are attracted to historical figures. Almost everybody has heard of MacArthur, or at least people know about his legendary promise to the Filipinos in March 1942, when he said: “I shall return.” MacArthur famously landed in Leyte in October 1944 and went on to liberate the Philippines. He also accepted Japan’s surrender and led the country’s reconstruction. This familiarity attracts readers just as it drew me as a writer.

If you plan to write about a historical character, find a niche. In my case, dozens of non-fiction books have already been published about MacArthur’s military career, but my novel is the first to focus on his romantic obsession with Isabel Rosario Cooper, a Filipina, in the 1930s.  


2. A historical figure’s fame is an inherent marketing advantage. Booksellers will categorize a historical novel about a fictional protagonist simply as historical fiction. A novel about a famous person in history has the added bonus of being categorized as biographical fiction.

In terms of marketing, a book like My MacArthur leverages a number of categories. In addition to historical and biographical fiction, it’s also promoted as women’s fiction and literary fiction. Sometimes, it gets lumped in with biographies and historical romance, which could only help reach more readers. Although my book is fiction, a historical museum invited me to speak about MacArthur, which attests to his popularity.

3. The abundant information about a historical figure facilitates research. MacArthur’s career is well-documented. At least seven non-fiction books were published about him in the past four years alone, even though he died in 1964. The abundance of information about him made my research easier. However, there’s a dearth of facts about Cooper, my novel’s heroine. That part of my research proved difficult, but it also provided a great opportunity for fiction writing. I was able to build a rich back story for her.

Three Disadvantages

1. A historical character can be an intimidating subject. Writing about someone important and famous triggers the worst self-doubt in writers. MacArthur intimidated me for so long that it took me a decade to research, write, and rewrite my novel. I often asked myself, “Who am I to write about MacArthur?”
Courtesy of the National Archives

It took another three years before it was acquired by Sand Hill Review Press in May 2018. It was published in November 2018.

2. Too much research can be overwhelming. While it was easy to gather information about MacArthur, it wasn’t so easy sifting through all the details. He fought and led in three major wars (World War I, World War II, Korean War). His career ended in controversy when President Harry Truman fired him for insubordination in 1951. Every time I felt overwhelmed by research, I reminded myself that I was writing a novel, not a history book. 

Courtesy of the National Archives

I had to focus on the storytelling.  

If you are writing about someone like MacArthur, you are going to need the self-discipline to exclude unnecessary facts or you will risk dumping too much information in your novel.

3. A historical figure’s popularity is a double-edged sword. A historical character’s fame will help you sell your novel, but it will also put you under the microscope. Historians and history fans are familiar with your subject, so you must tread carefully. Although you’re writing fiction, get your facts straight.

In the end, writing about the MacArthur-Cooper affair was a very rewarding experience. I hope readers would agree that My MacArthur is well worth the time and effort. 



Let's learn a little more about the book. 

Readers, here is the blurb for My MacArthur.



MY MACARTHUR is a fictionalized account of General Douglas MacArthur’s interracial, May-December love affair with a Filipino actress named Isabel Rosario Cooper in the 1930s. The turbulent relationship broke all the taboos at the time.

And here is an excerpt.


Douglas MacArthur. Her pulse quickened as she read the name. His neat handwriting exuded confidence, but just the same, his note struck her as an anomaly, a mistake. The white man who acted as his messenger stood next to her at the bar.
Men of all ages filled the Olympic Boxing Club, waiting for the fight to begin. Filipinos, Americans, and Europeans caroused and mingled freely here, unlike the Elks or the Army and Navy Club, which banned Filipinos. The foreigners sat at the tables, drank Cerveza San Miguel, and smoked cigars. The Filipinos stood at the cheap section of the club, jostled and bet among themselves.
            “I’m Captain Ed Marsh, by the way.” The messenger extended his hand.
            An American officer in civilian clothes. It was Saturday night, after all.
“A pleasure to meet you, sir.” She shook his hand, but withheld her name.
Isabel Rosario Cooper came to the club in search of her brother, or rather his car. She needed Ben to drive her to the Manila Carnival.
Women didn’t come here because they didn’t watch boxing, so when she stepped inside the club, she’d grabbed everyone’s attention without trying. The men had erupted in whistles and cheers. The crowd had parted as she crossed the room. Just the way she liked it. She was born to part crowds—to turn heads. For an aspiring actress, every place was a stage.
Who knew MacArthur sat amid the boisterous horde? She read the note again. I can’t help but notice your gracious presence. I would love it if you can favor me with your company. Please join me for dinner at The Grand.
This time, the words made sense. Not a blunder on his part or a misinterpretation on hers. The message hit her like a jackpot—bigger than the Carnival Queen title that her best friend, Nenita, aimed for. He was the most important man in the Philippine Islands. He could open doors for her and her family.
She stopped herself from blurting out a yes!  She couldn’t afford to give herself away. Nothing compelled a man to pursue a woman more than her lack of interest.
“Who’s Douglas MacArthur?” She stood with the note in one hand and her silk purse in the other hand. Chin up and chest out, despite the sweat underneath her lace blouse. Her skirt squeezed her waist and constricted her breathing, but she’d worn it because it displayed her figure. The stifling humidity now made her regret her choice. Even the garter belt and stockings itched in such heat.
“You’ve never heard of Douglas MacArthur?” His eyes widened.
She shook her head. A saxophone wailed, distracting them both. They turned toward the elevated boxing ring—empty. Below it, a band warmed up.
Captain Marsh offered her a pack of Lucky Strike. “Care for a cigarette?”
“Why, thank you.” She tucked her purse under her armpit and took one stick, which he lit with a lighter. They stood side by side, watching the band. 
“Do you see the gentleman in the middle?” He pointed at a table not far from the band. “White suit. Gray-striped tie. Do you see him?”
“That is Douglas MacArthur.”
The man stared at her while smoking a long-stemmed pipe, the bowl shaped like a corncob. He didn’t smile. The band played a jazz-style rendition of a Filipino folk song. The audience, packed ten deep, hooted and screamed for the fight to begin, but MacArthur didn’t even blink.
She glanced at his note again before inserting it in her purse.  “This is nice. But I don’t know him.”
“It’s unbelievable. You really don’t know him?”
She shook her head and shifted her weight to one hip.
“He’s the Big Cheese!”
She arched her eyebrow.
“Major General MacArthur is the most powerful American not just in the Philippines, but in Asia.”
She took a drag on her cigarette. “I know what big cheese means, thank you.”
MacArthur stood out in his expensive suit, slicked-back hair, and intimidating pipe, but he was as old as her father, if not older. His title was commander of the U.S. Army’s Philippine Division, though everyone treated him like a king.
He stared with a cool expression, pretending to be uninterested. The man was an actor. Perhaps they were not too different.



Purchase Links:

Universal Reader link:  https://books2read.com/u/4XRKWa

IndieBound:  https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781937818968


Sounds like an intriguing read! 


A pleasure to have you on Writing in the Modern Age, Cindy!



Guest Blogger Bio

Cindy Fazzi is a Filipino-American writer and former Associated Press reporter. My MacArthur, published by Sand Hill Review Press, is her literary debut. She writes romance novels under the pen name Vina Arno. Her first romance book, In His Corner, was published by Lyrical Press, while her second romance novel, Finder Keeper of My Heart, was published by Painted Hearts Publishing. Her short stories have been published in Snake Nation Review, Copperfield Review, and SN Review. 

Author Links:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/Cindy-Fazzi-779654065440439/

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/cindyfazzi/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/CindyFazzi
Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Cindy-Fazzi/e/B001K8ZG3W/


Written as Vina Arno:




  1. Hi, Marie. So grateful for your support! More power to you and your blog!


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