Accuracy

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Ah, accuracy.  The word that makes fiction writers, historians, non-fiction writers, and readers cringe.  It can be something minor that we all can deal with.  For instance, there were so many characters named John in Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel, The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen’s Champion, that she gave a boy the nickname, Jack, for her own sanity.  On other hand, in the novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, the fact that author, Philippa Gregory, claims that incest very well might have happened between Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, has driven many historians insane.

In the novella I’m writing, I use the word caricature.  Something tells me that they never used the word in 1705 England.  Maybe they did, but where would I find a proper word they would use for a funny picture in a newspaper depicting an old lady?  I constantlyworry that I might use something wrong. I’ve heard of writers who recruit people just to give them accuracy pointers on specific pieces.  So the reader might see a paragraph where a man from the 1200s smoked and say to the author, ”Take out the pipe.  Tobacco was only used once the Europeans settled in the Americas.”  I might use a sort of editor like that in the future, as well.

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My best friend is a writer, but not of historical fiction.  I often have her critique my work.  She and I sometimes disagree on how far from the truth I can stray.  To be fair, I think everyone in the business disagrees about this and it differs from case to case.  The King’s Speech gave incorrect dates, but I was okay with it in that particular case because using the exact dates might have made the film awkward.

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Can an author get away with inaccuracy if he or she does not claim accuracy?  Some historians said that they may not have minded The Other Boleyn Girl if Ms. Gregory had not stated that her work was accurate.  The play, The Lion in Winter, about Henry II’s court, was about as fictional as a period piece can be.  Still, playwright, James Goldman, recognized that it was complete fiction with real characters thrown in.

What do you think about accuracy?  What’s cringe worthy and what’s not?  Leave a comment!

Language and Tone

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Since beginning my novella, I’ve had a huge problem with language.  I have a tendency to keep the dialogue, as one girl cleverly put it, starched.  I had read letters written by people of the time that sounded very formal.  From the few pages I’ve read in Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe (written in the era my novella takes place), the language wasn’t formal in conversation, only letters.  That’s definitely a problem when doing research: phonographs were introduced in 1877.  Before then, no one could possibly record oral conversation.  There were many written ones, but writing is always more formal than talking (well, except with instant messaging or texting).post 26

I am still in the process of getting the right language into my book and it is a VERY tricky task.  My plan: read Moll Flanders and as much as I can of other novels of the era (1700s books tended to be very long, even for me).  Look for slang in letters, but be very careful with them.

Have you ever had this problem?  Any advice?  Please comment!

Getting Creative with Research

For now, my research has consisted of this: non-fiction books, novels from the eras, diaries, newspapers, and oh, did I mention things of the written word?  But I want more.  I want objects and places!

I am currently writing about the 1700s, when written work was becoming more popular than ever.  Still, writers from medieval or even ancient times have it even more difficult.  How much can we understand from hieroglyphics?  They use archeology as much as history.  Clay pots may tell as much about history as writings.

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In the Museum of London, which I will surely be visiting, they have on display tokens used in coffeehouses in the place of money.  I might just give myself a writing exercise and describe the token in as much detail as humanly possible.  Hopefully, being there gives me a good sense of the city streets, depending on how much the map has changed.  Fortunately, the Great Fire of London destroyed the city a few decades before the year I’m writing about.  This means that streets will have undergone more modernization in 1705, when my book takes place.  Unfortunately, the Blitz was a long way away, which destroyed and forced the reconstructing of London even more.  (I count destroying historical buildings and objects amongst the many atrocities committed by the Nazis).

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How have you learned about history in ways other than words and pictures?  What creative ways have you found to do research?  Comment!

Research Fund

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I once heard an author say that most writers need research funds.  This author, Cynthia Ozick, had written a book about Jews in 1930s New York.  She needed a bit of a research fund, but it helped that she was a Jew in New York and had been born in 1928.  I, on the other hand, will likely need a fortune.

Many historical fiction authors who write about other countries need to see the places they write about.  Others make do without it.  After all, 2013 London looks a lot different today than it did in the Victorian or the Georgian Eras, and I can tell that even before I’ve gone there. (The trip’s in a few weeks.  I’m so excited!)

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I also wonder about other genre authors.  Fantasy authors make up their own worlds, but also get inspiration from mythology and folktales and the like.  Sci-fi authors often need to use basic scientific principles before twisting them around with their own imaginations.  Mystery authors surely need knowledge about court systems and forensics.  The most contemporary realistic fiction authors can probably do without a research fund.

Maybe someday I will put a portion of every paycheck from my day job towards trips to Europe and research books I want to buy.

Any thoughts on all this?  Leave a comment!

Longer Works

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My creative writing professor advised my fellow students and me not to write lengthy pieces at the very beginning of our writing careers because we will improve so much that it might be a waste to be concentrated on one thing now only to cringe at it two years later.  However, as second semester sophomores, we got the opportunity to begin novellas, pieces shorter than a novel but longer than a book.  Think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote or The Dead by James Joyce.  Naturally, I went ahead with a historical fiction idea I had been toying around with for a while.  It has been an huge pleasure to write and I hope to continue.  As described, in my last post, it’s about a farm girl who gets a job in a London coffeehouse in 1705.

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I was very nervous about writing a longer piece.  When I was in high school, I wrote a novella that I was able to stick with for a long time (though never finished).  After that, I constantly threw away ideas after four chapters.  I tried something about servants in a large house, but when Downton Abbey came on, it felt totally unoriginal.  I tried something about a dressmaker, but didn’t like where that was going either.  I had a completely different set up to my current novella, but changed it drastically while keeping the main characters and their basic personality traits.

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My question is, is it easier for some people to stick with long pieces than it is for other people?  Many classmates hated their pieces by the end, though the ones who loved theirs tended to have much more plot-driven stories.  I’m sure that you really have to be committed to a story to continue it, which was probably my problem with the dressmaker novel and the servant novel.

Leave any thoughts in the comments section!

I’m Back!

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For anyone who read my blog with any regularity (or if you just look at the date of my last post), you’ll know that I stopped posting for a while.  College work does that to you.  But it’s summer and I’m back, with two exciting bits of news.

1. I’m working on a novel.

I took a college class called Art of the Novella which literally involved writing the beginning of a novella.  This may become a novel that may be my college Senior Project.  It’s about a farm girl who gets a job in a London coffeehouse in 1705, a place where many men spent most of their time, but no women spent time in except to work.

2. I’m going to London.

My ultimate dream is coming true!  On July 1st of this year, I will spend six weeks taking college classes at King’s College and spending time in my dream city, doing all the research I can.  I hope to continue posting while I’m there.

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I will be posting every Friday from now on.  I’ll also post pictures. Keep reading!

Bookstores

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There is a small independent bookshop in Greenwich, CT called Diane’s.  They have a shelf with nothing but historical fiction titles, particularly ones with romance.  Every time I go there, I want to stick a label on the shelf that says, “Lauren’s Shelf.”  As much as I love this store, it is the only one I’ve come across with a separate section for historical fiction.  Barnes and Nobles keeps their historical novels mixed with the rest of the fiction section.  So does a great used bookstore in New York City called The Strand.  I always wish that this wasn’t the case.  Mysteries have their own sections and fantasy and sci-fi books often do, too.  Why is my genre of choice discriminated in this way?  Maybe it’s because historical fiction can be hard to define.  As I said in a past post, it can range from Ancient Egypt to the Vietnam War.  In that case, maybe a section called period books would be more appropriate.  What are your thoughts on separate bookstore sections for certain genres?

Period Films

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For my 20th post, I’m straying from the topic of books for a bit and talking about period movies, which I love.  I constantly say that although I’m neutral towards Keira Knightly’s acting, I will watch most of what she’s been in because so many of the films are costume dramas.  Many of these films only appear in art house theaters.  I’m not sure why, but I accept it and go to the closest theaters that play my kinds of movies.  The frustrating thing about costume dramas is that so many are based either on real events or classic books.  Almost none of my favorite historical fiction novels have been made into movies.  Keira Knightly has been in Pride and Prejudice and will be in Anna Karenina, both based on classic novels.  She also starred in The Duchess, based on a true story.  There are so many BBC adaptions of classic Victorian novels.  Still, many film lovers complain that these novels have been adapted for film too many times.  My solution?  Make new screenplays about fictional characters in these era or base them off of contemporary historical novels.  Can we see those on film?

Long Books

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I began reading adult historical fiction with The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly.  It was huge with 592 VERY large pages.  I continued with the 976 page Forever Amber by Kathleen Windsor.  Next came the 768 page Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen.  The Other Boylen Girl by Philippa Gregory and To Dance with Kings by Rosalind Laker weren’t quite as massive, but they were still pretty big.

My father used to tease me about reading tomes.  Forever Amber hadn’t made it to the kindle when I read it, so I remember reading this huge book on the New York City subway while everyone else used their tiny e-readers.  I really should read Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, but I feel as though I’ve been worn out of 1000 page books.  My friend had a great theory as to why Forever Amber had been so popular when it was written in the 1940s: women didn’t work so much.  Therefore, they had time to read books like that.  Authors like Charles Dickens would write big books because they were paid by word.  It must have been hard to write a book that could make him money, but not overwhelm readers with the length.  I guess that’s why serialized versions of his books came in handy.

I’ve come to the realization that a lot of historical novels are very long, but not all.  I feel that reading long books has given me a strange kind of discipline.  Still, I’m on the look out for shorter book these days, especially since it’s so difficult to read for pleasure during college when there’s so much reading I have to do for class.

Short Stories

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As a student writer, I’m still trying to perfect short stories.  I really haven’t gotten into novels quite yet.  But the most frustrating thing with historical fiction short stories is the lack of places to publish them.  I’ve seen so many wonderful short story anthologies and literary magazines that publish mainly literary fiction.  I’m really not sure about science fiction or fantasy.  Maybe those writers are having similar problems.  There are so many historical fiction novels in bookstores, but I rarely see any short stories.   Maybe I’m not looking hard enough.  On the bright side, I have found two literary magazines specifically for my genre, namely Lacuna Magazine and The Copperfield Review.  I just wish there were more mainstream literary journals that published my kind of work more often.  Currently, I’m taking a writing course at college and my short stories are constantly historical fiction, to the point where I’m a bit afraid that the professor will think I can’t do anything else.  I might post a short story here one day, but I’m a little afraid of people stealing my work.  Any comments on historical fiction short stories would be most welcome!

 

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