Thursday 18 April 2019

Join #HistoricalFiction author, M.K. Tod, as she takes a look at how to transport readers to a different time and place #amwriting @MKTodAuthor

Transported in Time and Place

By M.K. Tod

Stories succeed or disappoint on the basis of character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building—the primary ingredients of fiction. But with historical fiction, the added expectation is to be transported in time and place. What do readers and authors mean when they say that a novel has transported them to the past?

Simon Parke, author of The soldier, the gaoler, the spy and her lover offered this perspective: “The magic ingredient of historical fiction is the emotional truth of the time, the landscape of consciousness in the era described.”

Emotional truth suggests an understanding of the lives, hopes, and dreams of individuals in long ago times. The landscape of consciousness involves a deep appreciation of societal norms and expectations that shaped the behaviours of those who lived in a particular era.

Jen who runs the reading blog In Literary Love says “when an author has the ability to describe a setting as if you’re looking at it with your own eyes,” she is transported in time and place.

Margaret George, a well-known author of historical fiction whose novels are always bestsellers, says: “the combination of escapism and education is what fuels successful historical fiction. People want to escape into another time but they want to learn about that time as well.”

Carla, a reader from Canada, says: “I like everything about Historical Fiction. I love that it can transport me to a Tudor Court, or an atrium in Greece, or a dais in Egypt or even a feast in Rome.”

And C.W. Gortner, author of novels like Mademoiselle Chanel and The Last Queen says: “what truly makes for success in historical fiction is authenticity.”

Character – whether real or imagined, characters behave in keeping with the era they inhabit, even if they push the boundaries. And that means discovering the norms, attitudes, beliefs and expectations of their time and station in life. A Roman slave differs from a Roman centurion, as does an innkeeper from an aristocrat in the 18th century. Successful historical fiction reveals the people of the past.

Dialogue – dialogue that is cumbersome and difficult to understand detracts from a reader’s enjoyment of historical fiction. Best-selling novels dip occasionally into the vocabulary and grammatical structures of the past by inserting select words and phrases so that a reader knows s/he is in another time period, without weighing the story down with too many such instances.

Setting – setting is critical to time and place and intrinsically tied to the deeper meaning of a story. Costume, food, furniture, housing, landscape, architecture, conveyances, sounds, smells, tastes, and a hundred other aspects go into setting. Consider these opening sentences:

·      “I could hear a roll of muffled drums. But I could see nothing but the lacing on the bodice of the lady standing in front of me, blocking my view of the scaffold.” Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl
·      "I was down in Surrey, on business for Lord Cromwell's office, when the summons came." C.J. Sansom, Dissolution
·      “Alienor woke at dawn. The tall candle that had been left to burn all night was almost a stub, and even through the closed shutters she could hear the cockerels on roosts, walls and dung heaps, crowing the city of Poitiers awake.” Elizabeth Chadwick, The Summer Queen
·      “Cambridge in the fourth winter of the war. A ceaseless Siberian wind with nothing to blunt its edge whipped off the North Sea and swept low across the Fens. It rattled the signs to the air-raid shelters in Trinity New Court and battered on the boarded up windows of King’s College Chapel.” Robert Harris, Enigma
·      "I have laid my head down in many places—on greasy sheepskins at the edge of battlefields, under the black expanse of goat hair tents, on the cold stone of caves and on the scented linens of palaces…” Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord

Straightaway you’re in the past.

Theme – most themes transcend history. And yet, theme must still be interpreted within the context of a novel’s time period. Myfanwy Cook, author of Historical Fiction Writing: A Practical Guide and Toolkit, presents a long list of potential themes: “ambition, madness, loyalty, deception, revenge, all is not what it appears to be, love, temptation, guilt, power, fate/destiny, heroism, hope, coming of age, death, loss, friendship, patriotism.” What is loyalty in 5th century China? How does coming of age change from the perspective of ancient Egypt to that of the early twentieth century? What constitutes madness when supposed witches were burned at the stake.

Plot – the plot has to make sense for the time period. And plot will often be shaped around or by the historical events taking place at that time. This is particularly true in stories based on the lives of famous historical figures.

Conflict – conflict derives from the problems faced by characters in any story. As with theme and plot, conflict reflects time and place. Readers seek to understand the reasons for conflicts in a particular time and place. An unmarried woman in the 15th century might be forced into marriage with a difficult man or the taking of religious vows. Both choices lead to conflict.

World Building – authors build worlds for readers, hence the customs, social arrangements, family environment, governments, religious structures, international alliances, military actions, physical geography, layouts of towns and cities, and politics of the time are relevant. As Harry Sidebottom, author of the Warrior of Rome series said: “The past is another country, they not only do things differently there, they think about things differently.”

Transported in time and place involves so many components: attitudes, language and idiom, household matters, material culture, everyday life, historical timelines, occupations, diversions, regulations, vehicles, travel, food, clothing and fashion, manners and mannerisms, beliefs, morality, mindset, politics, wars, weapons, revolutions, prominent people, major events, news of the day, neighbourhoods, gossip, scandals, trade, travel, costs, worries and cares, highways and byways, conveyances, landscape, sounds, tastes, smells, class divisions, names, architecture, social preoccupations, religious norms, cataclysmic events, legal system, laws, regulations, weather, government, cooking, sex, death, disease.

Successful novels subtly incorporate such details – the result is magic.

Time and Regret

When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

Pick up your copy of
Time and Regret

M.K. Tod

M.K. (Mary) Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, Time and Regret was published by Lake Union. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her award-winning blog A Writer of History.

No comments:

Post a Comment

See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx