"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:2



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Challenges of Historical Proportions


Notre Dame - Paris, France
Photo by Loree Huebner


Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Japan, and all those touched by the earthquake and tsunami. We keep you close in our hearts.


Writing historical fiction can have many challenges.  In this post, I only have time to hit on a few of the main important ones.
One of the trials of writing historical fiction is keeping your reader in the past along with your characters.  Let me give you a visual example of what I’m talking about – The movie, Titanic.  This movie was a giant historical movie in 1999, but there is one scene that has always troubled me.  I’m right there, lost in 1912 as Jack and Rose are running from her fiancé’s manservant.  They narrowly escape being caught by him as they board an elevator.  Now this is the part that kills me.  As they make their safe getaway, Rose turns around and… makes a very un-ladylike gesture with her finger to the man.  BAM!  What happened?  Back to present day in a flash!  It’s kind of like “the bubble” thing I talked about last week.  Now I know we could argue until we’re all blue in the face, but really, that would NEVER have happened back then.  A lady of society wouldn’t have done it in public…she didn’t even know how to spit.  And I don’t care how daring or rebellious she was acting that evening…no, it wouldn’t have happened.  The impolite gesture she used was around in that time period, but rarely brought up, so-to-speak.  In all honesty, she probably would have just stuck out her tongue at him…and not given him a bird on stick.  The scene jolted me back and my bubble had popped.  That gesture was of a modern day mindset.
We have to be careful and think it out as we write it.  When I was a novice at writing, I had written a line in my first book - A man is talking to another about how love had hit him.  This takes place, of course, during the Civil War: “It’s like falling off a cliff in slow-motion.”  This line bothered me, and I could sense something wasn’t right, but I didn’t see why.  HELLO LOREE!  Slow-motion technology wasn’t invented back then as my husband so kindly pointed out to me.  I didn’t catch it, but he did.  Such a silly mistake!  We must take care not to draw the reader back to the present.
Another challenge is too many historical facts can spoil a book.  No matter what time period you’re writing in, you don’t want to lose the tale in the historical details—you must build around them.  The author doesn’t need to describe that the pretty black bla bla bla bonnet, trimmed in pink, was made in bla bla bla, by bla bla, and first sold in bla bla bla...*snore* unless it really matters to the story.  Your character can be right in the thick of it all without it being a full blown, boring history lecture.  A writer can accomplish this with a gentleness for the subject—by following a time line without sticking every historical element in the reader’s face.  I’m not saying not to use any details, but pick and choose wisely.  Use the historical information when it really is of importance to the plot.
Agree?  Disagree?  Got any basic pointers for historical fiction that you would like to share?  Let’s talk about it.  I would love to hear your opinion or suggestions.
Between you, me and the gatepost…
Loree

10 comments:

Shopgirl said...

I agree with your argument about keeping the time period authentic. Some historic novels, esp those massively popular, while enjoyable to read, constantly make me feel that I'm reading a contemporary story through these kind of "leaky" moments. It ruins the integrity of the context.

Loree Huebner said...

Shopgirl: so true about the "leaky" moments. You're never really there...

So sweet of you to come by. BTW, I love your blog! I spent some time reading through it last night. Positively wonderful!

Terri Tiffany said...

LOL I could never write historical because I would be messing it up all the time. So much detail to be in tune to. SO good you enjoy it:)

Loree Huebner said...

Terri: In a nutshell, it's pretty fun to write...but it can be goofy at times. Thanks for stopping in!

troutbirder said...

Mmmm. Your right on. Still I might be able to catch a few of those, at least in the Civil War era, which I love. It would be really jaring to run across those kind of bloopers. Strangely enough I prefer my historical fiction in the distant distant past. Take Sharon Kay Penman in the time Eleanor and Henry II. Or Colleen McCullugh following Caesar. They don't appear to make a lot of bloopers and if they did I'd just be dreaming, drifting along in a world so fascinating and remote I'd probably not notice them anyway..... :)

Loree Huebner said...

troutbirder: No argument here. There are many, many excellent historical fiction writers. They really know their stuff and when they write about it...it shows. You can see the time and effort put into the story. It takes a lot of research and practice. I agree with you, if the writing is really good, we may not even notice (or care about) the bloopers. We just have to do our best to minimize any inconsistencies because there's always someone who notices. Thanks for coming by today! Glad you had such a nice weekend!

Tana Adams said...

I have a historical fiction novel floating around in me somewhere. The one thing that holds me back is all of the research involved. I'm not ready yet.

Loree Huebner said...

Tana: It will come to you when you are ready. You're correct, the research can be difficult, but it also can be very rewarding. Don't let it scare you away. Somes the information you learn will take your story in a direction that you never antisipated. Great to hear from you!

Julie Musil said...

I don't have the guts to write historical fiction, but it is one of my favorite genres to read. I love Phillipa Gregory's work. She spins these amazing tales steeped in history. She's a professor of history, so I know I'm getting all these juicy details about the past, while also reading a great story.

I'm impressed with every single historical writer. You guys are amazing.

Loree Huebner said...

Julie: Thanks for coming by today...Some people can really write historical fiction. I'm always in awe at the great ones.