This month the topic comes in two questions:
How can contemporary Fiction keep up with our swiftly changing world, politically, socially or technically? Or how do you keep your stories located in time?
So – two bites of the cherry or an answer that wraps up both ways of looking at the issue.
I regard myself as a mainly historical writer and with that in mind need to remember which words can be used and which words have taken on such universal loathing that no writer would do so. The assertion that ‘Well that’s what the character would have said.’ doesn’t get you off the hook. Perversely, it’s also the case that readers think some words are too modern whereas they’ve possibly been around for centuries. I don’t want to pull my reader out of the story, so I tend to avoid them.
I tend also to pay a lot of attention to the advice of the late Hilary Mantel. Don’t think the unthinkable. So I do not have my female characters spending all their page-time kicking over the traces. They may be moving things along, but it’ll be in a believable way. Mariah Fox, for example, teaches and that is an acceptable pursuit for the daughter of an academic man. However, she knows when Tobias outwits her, that she will have to give way and marry him.
Sophia Jex-Blake, an Edinburgh doctor, did huge amounts for the advancement of women in university education. She comes later in the nineteenth century when that was a political and social issue of huge import. There was even a riot.
In addition to reading up about what was contemporary when, I have a huge collection of books detailing things like costume and manners. Who doesn’t love ‘dressing the set’? Does a crowd of men in boilersuits and flat caps conjure up a different era to a crowd of men in linen smocks with gaiters tied around their calves?
Transport, getting technical, and communication are huge areas. My characters have to walk, ride a horse or sail. Today people, including women, drive their own cars, fly their own planes and hug a mobile phone on which their existence depends. Crime writers, I think, must often wish the mobile to perdition.
My characters bow and curtsey. Usually as deference to rank or age, but sometimes due to good manners. I am old enough to remember practising my curtsey before important visitors came to the school. How different is our contemporary wish to take a selfie with anyone from the Regency era when one could not even address a person before an introduction in the proper form. Possibly some hard pressed contemporary ‘celebs’ might see the value in that!
It’s both romance month and library month here in the UK. Mariah’s Marriage, Daisy’s Dilemma, Courting the Countess and A debt for Rosalie are all available from the library. Courting the Countess is also available for your kindle. City of Discoveries is available online to read in 50 parts in the People’s Friend archive.
Other Robins are listed below and I’m looking forward to their take on our topic.
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-2QS
Anne Stenhouse http://wp.me/31Isq
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Hi Anne, I like the idea of fans needing a formal introduction before they can address a celebrity 🙂 It’s also interesting how you need to make sure the heroine is fixed believably in her time. It must be difficult to show a spirited heroine when in reality women were just so hide-bound and constrained by everything.
I enjoyed your take on the question. Another thought-provoking topic this month.
Thanks Helena. I also enjoyed yours but wordpress prevented my comment being published. Sigh! I’d never heard of the bot you discussed. Must look it up. I think I enjoy the challenge of creating a spirited heroine within the strictures. It can be infuriating, though. I remind myself that if she’d committed a murder, her husband was responsible for that, too. anne
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Yes, it’s amazing (and frightening) to think how women had to live then – and not even that long ago. Women were more or less forced to be passive. I admire how you keep those strictures in mind, and still create an interesting and active heroine, even though the period must seriously limit what your heroine can do.
Great post, Anne. It must be tricky getting the historical language and culture right – while keeping the story engaging when writing historical fiction – something you do well.
Hi Anne, thank you. I do enjoy it. Anne
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I also enjoy the research involved in historical fiction, and would get hysterical if a reader told me off for getting some detail wrong. (Sorry, I can’t help punning when I haven’t had much sleep, and my current story kept me awake for half the night.)
Thank you for a different take on our topic. I thought it referred to our current time, but then you are right: whenever we are writing about is our current time.
Hi Bob, A sticky moment while I checked the remit! The research is seductive and there are so many rabbit holes to be avoided. anne
You are so right that choosing vocabulary is as important in any era as avoiding or explaining changes in transportation, communication and social mores. It’s a hidden issue. We can’t afford to offend our faithful readers with language they consider offensive even it is very appropriate for the character, setting or time. I’ve had that issue when presenting a soldier in a romance – the expression that someone’s language would make a sailor blush didn’t come out of thin air so to be realistic my romance hero, a hardened Marine would have a vocabulary that would offend a huge swath of romance readers, but I have to find ways around that, ways to say he cursed a blue streak, but without including the curses. But there are other less obvious words. When I grew up gay simply meant happy. I doubt anyone uses it in that text today. What we call love was once referred to as charity. And a whole raft of other words and phrases.
Hi Skye, swear words are a touchy, touchy subject. One or two of them have now lost their ‘force’ and arrived in the lexicon as simple exclamations. However, writing them down seems to re-attribute the force – or offensiveness, as it may be. Anne
Hi Anne, I enjoyed your post. And yes, research for historical stories can be so seductive.
Thanks for dropping by, Victoria. anne