Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing Fiction in a Different Time Period

As an indie author writing novels that take place during a past time period, I must be my own policeman when it comes to making sure my story stays true to the period. Yes, it is fiction, and you can have things happen that didn't really happen...but it still has to be within reason.

Gastien lived in nineteenth century France. Therefore, I can't say that he drove to Au Lapin Agile for a drink! You may thing this is a "duh" when writing, but it is so easy to mess up. For instance, one beta reader caught it when Gastien used a twist on an old saying by stating: "I may have just arrived off the turnip truck...". There were no trucks then, she reminded me.  Oh. Right!  It quickly got changed to "I may have just arrived off the turnip wagon..."

I am now writing the third book in The Gastien Series, which will be titled Tristan Michel: Bloodline of Passion. It starts in 1909. I have about 17,000 words done.  Friday I started reading it aloud to my husband, Dave. Tristan Michel calls his sister in New York City to tell her that he is moving his family to New York from Paris. All of a sudden, I paused. Could that have happened?
It has been too many years since my history classes as a student. Way too many. So, I looked it up on the Internet. Whew, I thought, phones WERE in use then. No problem. Still, it haunted me. This morning I searched deeper.  Yes, phones were in use, but the first intercontinental call did not happen until 1915! Now I know that Tristan Michel must send a telegram. 

If you are using a big event that actually happened in history in your fiction, make sure the facts are right. For instance, if I wanted to use the Great Flood of Paris that happened in 1910, I better not have any of Tristan Michel's relatives die in it. No one died in Paris itself, and they all lived in Paris.  Well, actually, one soldier did. So, if he was related to Tristan Michel, I would be safe. Does it matter? To a some people, no. But to a reader that knows French history, you better believe it does. It makes the story unreal to them. Fiction is fiction, but while the reader is reading the story it needs to seem real.

I am talking about major historical events. Tristan Michel is an architect. Because it is fiction, I certainly can have him work on some major buildings wherever he lives in the USA. The facts about who built each building are not major events. Not many care or know who put the windows in which building, or who made the plans for most of the buildings in our cities.

Gastien's clothing was vastly different than others during his life. Because people from all over the world came to Paris and Montmartre there were what we would call "flea markets" and used shops featuring all kinds of goodies. Therefore, it was possible that he would buy clothing from other cultures and wear it. Plus, he was an artist and they tended to dress oddly.
He even wore pants that fit him as capris, although no one else was wearing capri trousers at the time. It works, because he was a "bohemian", the group he was part of and where he resided.
Have fun with your characters and what they do, but make sure that it fits the era you are writing in, or at least can be believable because of the character and situation he or she is in. Use the Internet to find out details of major events, how people dressed, and what major things were or were not available to them during that time period. It will take you longer to write the story, but you will end up with a novel that readers can enjoy as real during their time spent with your characters.

Happy Writing!

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