Time once again for a Blog Chain post. I am skipping ahead of turn a bit, as our wonderful Mary is currently holed up in her house hiding from Hurricane Ike. All our thoughts and prayers with you Mary!! Stay safe! So, just for this round, I will be posting after the incredible Heather, who started this chain. And the adorable Kate will continue the chain after me. Our other blogmates are listed in the roll to the left.
The topic for this round is - How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity?
I love this question!!! Choosing my setting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a story. I write historical fiction, so I need to pick a location, but also a time period. One of the reasons I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in history is because I love getting lost in other times and places. I can’t wait to write a book set in ancient Egypt or Greece, I have ideas for Italy and Russia, I want to delve into the old royal courts and medieval countrysides. I even have a small novella project set in the old American West (not something I ever thought I'd write, but I'm always up for a challenge). I am very partial to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and my first two novels are set in those regions.
Where I set my books sometimes depends on if there is a particular event I am writing around. For example, the story I mentioned a few blog chain posts back, of the girl who escaped an arranged marriage…this took place in England in the late 1100s or early 1200s. So, my location and time period was set for me. Treasured Lies is set in Victorian England, because I wanted my main character to be a clumsy, quirky character that was a little out of place in her refined world. And I needed her to be able to travel by train. So, Victorian England it was. My current novel is set in England in 1665 – why? Because I love that period in time and I wanted to get lost in a world of huge, fluffy dresses, ringlet hairdos, and sword carrying, swash-buckling men.
But in order to get lost in these time periods, and most importantly, in order to suck my reader into the past along with me, the setting needs to be believable. A woman in a huge satin ball gown, walking through the palace of Charles II, had better not have a cell phone ringing in her handbag.
Which brings me to how I give the setting authenticity. The answer…a LOT of research. I research everything, from clothing (down to the undergarments) and weaponry, to money values and housing availability, to who was on the throne and what the political setting was like. In order to make my reader believe that they are really in whatever time period I have chosen, I have to make sure the historical tidbits that I have sprinkled throughout the story are authentic and accurate.
This has made for some interesting emails on my part. I’ve emailed horticulture societies to find out what kind of flowers bloom in January in a certain region of England (not so odd). But, I did once get to ask a bone expert if a body that has been buried for a century would still have any hair (it wouldn't, in most cases). I have researched things as odd as what a laudanum bottle would look like in 1755 England, to when crowbars came into existence and what exactly they were called, to whether or not toilets were commonly used in 1855 England (they weren’t).
Setting a story in the past is a tough job, much tougher than I ever thought possible before I started to write. It is amazing how easily modern phrases and mannerisms make their way into my books. (This is where incredible critique buddies come in!) For Treasured Lies, I would often watch the movie An Ideal Husband in order to get into the Victorian mindset – so I could get the speech patterns and mannerisms in my mind before I began to write. And when I found myself starting to write too “modern,” I would often have to stop for the day until I could get in that old-fashioned mindset again.
But it is an absolute thrill for me to get lost in the past. Which is why what I do. I write historical novels because I can use the knowledge I have been acquiring over the years, indulge my love of research, mix it all up with the stories that are percolating in my head, and get lost in a world that was once real. I choose a place I want to go, a time period I would love to have seen (at least for a short visit) and create the perfect characters to live in them. And it’s a grand adventure every time :D
Next up, as stated earlier, is the fabulous Kate. And don’t forget to head over to Heather’s blog to follow the chain from the beginning!