Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thursday's Children: Inspired by History

I admire writers who create new worlds. What a lot of imagination it takes to develop a setting, civilizations, and technology or magic in addition to all the other components of a story.

I venture to say that the historical fiction writer does something similar. The only difference is that there are usually real artifacts and evidence of that other world--the past.

The truth is, we probably have it easier than people at any time in history. We eat better and have better medical care, for sure. Our houses are solid and climate-controlled. We have lots of gadgets that mean we don't have to draw water from a well and wash clothes by hand or worry about food spoiling. We don't have to go to bed at sunset because candles are handmade and you just burned the last one to a nub.

Why then is the past so fascinating to many of us? Besides the desire to wear sweeping gowns or wield a sword, I think many of us conceive the past as more interesting and romantic yet simpler, with better values. Probably people in other eras felt the same about times previous. Woody Allen's film, Midnight in Paris, makes this point. The MC travels back to the 1920s, which he believes is the perfect period for a writer. A woman he meets there, an artist's model, believes the best period for her is the Belle Epoque, the late 1800s. 

I have two favorite periods. One is the 1880s-1910, the grand hotel era. Not only was it an intensely creative time for artists (art is one of my passions), the architecture was incredible (another passion). The wealthy in the so-called Gilded Age had the money, imagination, and taste to create houses and public buildings that were eclectically beautiful and often whimsical. They showed appreciation for Nature's majesty by creating elaborate gardens and many of our national parks. During that period, they believed in important connections between Art, Landscape, and the Divine. Vacations lasted all summer and were spent in lavish, sprawling hotels located in gorgeous spots.

My other favorite period is the 1920s. The Flapper--independent and bold, gorgeous in silk and satin and beads, dancing all night and riding in roadsters with chisel-chinned college men...The 1920s were a seminal time for women. They forged their own path and have never been more drop dead glamorous.

The challenge of writing historical fiction is to place yourself there. To feel, touch, see, and even smell it. To imagine landscapes and towns and cities as they once were. You must create characters true to their time and way of thinking. Research is key, and perhaps in another post, I'll share my secrets regarding digging out facets of the past that will enrich your writing.

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14 comments:

John Krissilas said...

I LOVE it. Definitely a source of inspiration for me!

I was a Classics student, so anything Greco-Roman is right up my alley. I've found that themes, architecture, characters, and names from this period always worm their way into my work — which is sci-fi/fantasy!

Thanks for sharing.

Liz Penney said...

Thanks for your comment!

Jaye Robin Brown said...

I just started my first historical piece - 1900 era but Appalachian - so no grand hotels. It's really exciting and fun to find people enamored of the same bits of history.

rhiannwynnnolet.com said...

My first literary love was historical fiction, in particular anything British prior to James 1. Hooked on Tudors and Plantagenets. My first book required me to write a journal kept by a 17th century minister. I totally adored the research involved and found that ancient documents created all kinds of new connections/inspirations. Topic for a TC post at some point... Your post reminded me of Newport, RI, one of my fave places to visit.

Liz Penney said...

Jaye, Appalachia is cool, live there now (GA), and Rhiann, talk about Gilded Age! Never been to Newport but have drooled over the mansions!

Mia Celeste said...

Oh, wow. I'm a fan of the 1920s,too. I'd like to write about Chicago in that era. :)

http://www.miaceleste.com/?p=239

PatEsden said...

Most of my stories are fantasy, but history plays a huge role in them. I love the 1890's in America, but I've dabbled in a lot of other time periods as well. The lives of the weathy and artists at the turn of the century, like the art colonies is full of inspiration for stories.

I don't think I could write anything with some connection to the distant past.

Paula Harvey said...

Very nice post, the 1920's did seem like an interesting time for women. I've never tried writing historical fiction, but I LOVE reading it- because I learn as I read.

This was a very nice post.

Karen lee Hallam said...

Yum. you've created a delicious tempting tapestry of a past I want to sit in--if only I could decide--1920's, or Belle Epoch. I'll keep reading because I want to know how to dig nuggets out of the past for a story I'm planning about Victorian Poets. (family ancestors) Still in the inkling of an idea stage. Love reading Historical fiction. It may be the only way to time trave--maybe. ;)

Chris Allen-Riley said...

I love to read historical fiction, but I have to admit I'm not crazy about writing it. :)

Liz Penney said...

Thanks again for nice comments! Love to see that people read and better yet, enjoy!

Michaele Stoughton said...

I've always been intrigued by how things "used to be."
Great inspiring post!

Kristina Perez said...

As a medievalist, I guess my favorite time period is about 1100-1485 (when Malory was published.) My PhD was on Morgan la Fey, however, so I go much further back studying her origins in Celtic mythology right through to Tennyson's VIvien, making the Victorian era my second fave era. Maybe we should beta ;-) Thanks for joining us!

Qing Cai said...
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