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No-no's in Historical Fiction

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These are all great responses! I definitely see that the biggest pitfall to avoid is inaccuracy or sloppy research. What about cliches or over-done characters/time periods/settings? Things that editors see and say, "Oh, not another ____ story."

Thanks, guys, this has been a great conversation!
#31 - June 27, 2013, 08:02 AM

Pons-- the theory of plate movement was known well before the '60's. It just wasn't accepted by the scientific community until about '63 (because there was no provable cause for the drift until then). If the protag was a science nerd and read magazines or some types of books (about Pangea, for instance) he or she could certainly have come across the theory. It was in lots of science fiction stories from the 50's. Tom Swift would probably have known all about it...he did have a secret lab on the ocean floor, after all!

:) eab
#32 - June 27, 2013, 01:05 PM

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Oh, I know the theory was floating around, but it was generally considered laughable among the scientific community until discoveries such as the repeated shift in magnetic poles led to other discoveries that led to acceptance. It was just funny to see it presented as an everyday fact that an everyday kid would know - like the capital of California is Sacramento.

#33 - June 27, 2013, 06:05 PM

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What about cliches or over-done characters/time periods/settings? Things that editors see and say, "Oh, not another ____ story."

Christina, I'd definitely try to avoid cliches and overdone stuff, not to mention things that make editors say "Oh, not another __"! ;-)
As someone who writes historical fiction (as well as hist fantasy), the thing that seems to make editors say no the most (for me) is the story being too quiet. Which is by no means a standard feature of historical fiction; just something to watch out for.
#34 - June 27, 2013, 06:53 PM

Oh, I know the theory was floating around, but it was generally considered laughable among the scientific community until discoveries such as the repeated shift in magnetic poles led to other discoveries that led to acceptance. It was just funny to see it presented as an everyday fact that an everyday kid would know - like the capital of California is Sacramento.



The author clearly wasn't setting the character up as some kind of science nerd, then. Just a research blip. I hate it when that happens.

:( eab
#35 - June 28, 2013, 05:41 PM

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My pet peeve is also the modern sensibilities inserted into history. Drives me INSANE.

Yes, I'm sure that there was *somebody* who felt that way back then. But even if you write a convincing character who shares exactly the same social/political ideas of people today, it's not enough. You have to consider the context they're in, too. When I read a "modern" character in a historical novel and everyone around them is totally cool with whatever their modern sensibilities are, I just can't buy it. The character can be unique, but the rest of the world just isn't going to go along with it. It strains the credibility of the book to the breaking point for me.
#36 - June 28, 2013, 10:57 PM

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The author clearly wasn't setting the character up as some kind of science nerd, then. Just a research blip. I hate it when that happens.
I think you're right. Just a research blip. It's easy to think that common knowledge today was common knowledge 50 years ago, but things can move pretty fast.

Anyway, it was a cute show, and I can forgive the blip. It just made me laugh - not the intended response I'm sure. :lol4
#37 - June 29, 2013, 07:33 AM

I was once really, really tired of writing a certain historical series. So I had a stagecoach pull up for a fast, no passenger getting out horse change in Kentucky, and the station master handed a bucket of fried chicken out a small window before the coach rolled on...

But I repented and took it out before I sent the final ms in.

heh.

eab
#38 - June 29, 2013, 08:26 AM
« Last Edit: June 29, 2013, 08:30 AM by Auntybooks »

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What? They didn't have KFC in the way back when?  :lol4
#39 - June 29, 2013, 02:17 PM

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I was once really, really tired of writing a certain historical series. So I had a stagecoach pull up for a fast, no passenger getting out horse change in Kentucky, and the station master handed a bucket of fried chicken out a small window before the coach rolled on...

But I repented and took it out before I sent the final ms in.

Must have been where the Colonel lived!  LOL

heh.

eab
#40 - June 29, 2013, 07:55 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

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I think one of the hardest things for people to write about and do a good job without putting modern sensibilities on tend to be topics like slaves and American Indians or even immigrants. 

We want it to be politically correct and it definitely was not politically correct.  Yes there were free states and slave states, but Black people were not treated equal in Free States and often had to carry papers on them before the Civil War showing the were Free. 

People think Andrew Jackson was a horrid president because of the Trail of Tears, yet he was only doing what many previous president and following presidents did when the American Indian population became a "problem" for white settlers.

There were societies set up in the majority of cities to make immigrants "Americanized." To teach them to dress, wash, talk and to do what settled Americans thought was the correct way to behave. 

To many historical writers try to gloss over the fact that those already settled in the USA for a couple of generations would be all caring and never treat Blacks, American Indians and immigrants as second or third class citizens and try to act as if all had equal rights.  Even Women with votes.  There are reasons we have Amendments to our Constitution to spell out the changes made over time. 
 
#41 - June 29, 2013, 08:07 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

http://www.lizstrawwrites.com/

An editor at a big publishing company told me that that historical fiction is in fact a hard sell, so you need to find a way to make yours stand out.  He said that this could be by exploring something in history that had not been written about (or wrtten about much), or presenting the historical fiction in a new, fresh and interesting way.
#42 - June 30, 2013, 06:57 AM
Stephanie Theban aka Leeth

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Not to be too serious here, but how about this...

My Life at the Bottom. A piece of historical fiction told in a Faulknerian, stream of consciousness As I Lay Dying style in which the reader is presented the inner thoughts of Presdient Tafts' overly aggressive bathtubs.

Not sure but I'm pretty sure I smell Pulitzer.
#43 - June 30, 2013, 09:46 AM

Annemleone- along with period ephemera as suggested (Ebay!!) you might also look to any old family members or older people in your community. This would be a good excuse to visit nursing homes, as well-you've no idea how thrilled they'd be for visits from interested strangers! Just get them talking and you'll get a ton of interesting fodder. I was luck enough to have a lot of old relatives (my GGM lived to 100, as many of  my relatives did) so I got lots of perspectives on the depression, rural southern farm life and life in Chicago during the 20's and 30's. My Dad grew up in Mississippi and Chicago, even remembers his first abrupt introduction to Jim Crow laws while traveling by train to Mississippi as a small boy, and the anger he felt at the inequity is as strong today as it was then. To hear these stories first person is priceless. So, ask an oldie for their stories and use a recorder or take copious notes. Once they're gone, their stories go with them, unless we're diligent!
#44 - July 08, 2013, 12:53 PM

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Look at anything published in the era. Cook books will tell you what was happening in the kitchen. Newspapers tell you what was going on in the world. The ads tell you what the people cared about and how they dressed, or how the manufacturers wanted them to dress.

Sometimes you can find people who reenact a time period. These may be denizens of historical sights like Colonial Williamsburg or Plymouth, Mass. or the Society for Creative Anachronism or war reenactors. The folks who do this often have great insight into their characters and the times.
#45 - January 20, 2014, 12:16 PM

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