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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