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What to Say and How to Do: Writing Victorian Historical Fiction


By Sarah A. Chrisman

A Book Is A Time Machine

            A book is the best and cheapest time machine you will ever buy.  As a writer of books about the Victorian era I often think of myself as a tour guide to another time.  When showing my fellow travellers the delights of a foreign time, I always remember the importance of not only knowing the terrain through which we’re travelling, but of being respectful of its people as well.  Something I was once told about understanding modern cultures is just as applicable to understanding cultures defined by time rather than mere distance: on my first day of French class at university the professor opened her very first lecture by telling us, “French people do not say things in French because they mean them in English and just don’t know any better.  French people say things in French because they mean them in French!”  So, too, with people of different eras.  They were not modern people acting certain ways and doing certain things because they didn’t know any better: they were members of a vibrant culture of time.  If you are going to bring strangers into their world to walk amongst them, you must first understand them.

Choose A Destination

            Be very clear with yourself about the time and place that form your setting.  The Victorian era was very long and covered an immense diversity of places.  Tombstone, Arizona, of the 1880’s was very different from London of the same time, and Paris of 1900 was a radically different city from Paris of 1848.  A specific choice of where and when you’re going is the first step towards getting there.

Research, Research, Research!

            I draft all my manuscripts by hand – a number of interesting studies have shown that the creative process works differently when writing by hand than when typing.  Next to my desk is a wicker basket full of notebooks, and each one is devoted to a different book in my series.  In the back of each of these is a reading list I’ve compiled for myself of materials I want to either read or revisit before I start writing that particular story.  For example, I just finished a novel about a reporter in the American Pacific Northwest in 1889.  Looking at the reading list I assigned myself before I started writing his story, I see the memoirs of a 19th-century journalist; four Victorian-era style guides and two period articles on the subject of how to write for the press; five detective memoirs from the time; two 19th-century novels about journalists; a journalist’s trade magazine; and a number of books, magazines and newspaper articles related to my hero’s personality and the historic events through which he’s living – and this is all just background!  As I write a book, I’m constantly doing still more research and delving deeper into my characters’ world and their motivations.

            How do I put together these reading lists?  By constantly reading everything I can about the Victorian era and compulsively taking notes on them.  When I see a quote, fact or witticism that seems like it might fit into a particular story, I’ll jot it down in the notes I’m compiling for that story.  When I come across things that don’t fit with any planned project but are nonetheless worth remembering, I add them to my latest commonplace book.  This may seem like a slow and haphazard way to go about things at first, but once you’ve been at it a while you’ll be amazed at how much information you’ve compiled and how much more you’ve learned than a simple keyword search could have taught you.

Get Your Facts From the Original Sources

            Remember what I said about books being time machines and authors being tour guides?  Your research is your tour guide training, and it’s best to get that training first hand.  In other words, read materials actually written in the Victorian era, not just modern things about the Victorian era.  Think about it this way: if you landed a job giving tours of Paris, wouldn’t you rather learn your routes from a native-born Parisian than from someone who’d never been there? 

            So many written materials of all sorts were produced during the Victorian era there’s really no excuse for not reading some of them.  Try to read the same materials your characters would have been reading.  If you’re writing about a middle-class American woman, read Godey’s magazine or period issues of Good Housekeeping.  If you’re writing humor about late 19th-century London, read the hilarious novel, The Diary of a Nobody.  If your hero’s a doctor read The Lancet; for a nurse read the works of Florence Nightingale.  

            You can buy a wide variety of antique or reprinted books through websites like Abebooks.com and eBay.  Digital copies of many hard-to-find works can be downloaded for free by using the Google Books Advanced Search function, and you can then print these out and bind them into a hardcopy format.  Don’t forget about period newspapers, too!  Many communities operate digital archives of their periodicals, and these can be absolute goldmines for knowing exactly what was really happening at the precise time of your story.

            My favorite resources of all are diaries written in the 19th-century.  A surprising number of these have been published – I highly recommend Maud: The Illustrated Diary of a Victorian Woman.  Large archives often contain original diaries from people associated with their institutions; and if you’re very lucky you can sometimes find original diaries for sale from rare book dealers or even on eBay.  There is no more intimate connection to an era than reading the hand-written diary of someone who lived through it.

Some Travel Tips

            Before I send you along on your journeys, oh fellow tour guides, here are a few tips for your journey:

            —Avoid Anachronisms.  I don’t need to tell you not to give your Victorian heroine a cell phone.  Be aware, though, that it’s just as inappropriate to give her modern opinions and motivations.  Unless you are literally writing a time travel story DON’T give it a heroine who reads like she just stepped out of the twenty-first century.  Respect the world and culture you’re depicting by learning as much about it as you possibly can, then write characters appropriate to that world.

            —Don’t Stereotype.  Don’t insert modern characters into historical settings, but don’t fill those settings with flat clichés, either.  Remember that you are painting a picture of a diverse community where every individual has a complex personal history.  Flesh out those backgrounds for yourself and you can make the world come to life for your readers.

            —A Couple Basic Guide Books.  Every work of historical fiction has an entire library behind it, but there are a couple types of books that are useful to every writer of the genre.  You’ll want a period style guide.  My personal favorite is Wolstan Dixey’s The Trade of Authorship from 1889.  (Give particular attention to pp. 74-91, “The Trade”.)  Familiarizing yourself with writing advice from the time will help you settle into a style of your own that feels natural for the period.  Besides this writing guide, you’ll also benefit from a period etiquette guide.  I’m a fan of Hill’s Manual of Social and Business Forms.  This will give you a succinct overview of advice from the time and help you (and your characters) avoid common pitfalls.

Bon Voyage!            Your readers are depending on you to bring them to another time and place.  Be worthy of their trust by learning as much as you can about their destination and presenting it in a respectful and realistic way.  Pleasant journeys and happy trails! 

— 

“Books are the windows through which the mind looks out.” —Anonymous, Zion’s Home Monthly, January 15, 1889. p. 197.

Written by Sarah A. Chrisman

Novel Writing 101 – Lesson 1 and 2

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Now that I am qualified as a Library Assistant and I have completed Styling Essentials, lots of new things are in the works.

I decided to take a novel writing course – a short one – online – so that I can further develop enhance my skills in that area of writing, so I am not just freely blogging, or typing away with no thought. Novel writing is not careless, it is complex, and there is so much to it that I thought it would be a challenge to take up a new course in something else that I love and am passionate about!

It is through Universal Class which is the same provider I used online when doing the Historical Fiction writing course online as well.

You start out with being shown what your Learning outcomes are, such as:

Defining what a novel is

Describe working philosophy

Summarize novel writing methods

Select a specific class to write about

Select a specific genre to write about

Select a point of view

Summarize manuscript formatting

Create a storyboard

Define the synopsis

Summarize 5 elements involved in fiction writing

Describe building character development

Describe plot/conflict development

Summarize plot requirements

Create the setting, theme, style and tone

Create the climax, identify critical scenes. Recognise cause and effect.

Create proper dialog and illustrative details

Write a conclusion. Edit and revise. Publish the work.

Lets begin with the first lesson!

LESSON 1

Definition of. a novel

“If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”– Nobel Prize-winning American author Toni Morrison

With origins dating back to poetic prose from thousands of years ago — Elizabethan times, fanciful French romance narratives from the mid-17th century, and episodic, central-figure adventures from the Spanish Don Quixote era — novel writing is an art form that has long been an integral part of our culture.

WHAT IS A NOVEL?

  1. A fictional prose narrative of considerable length, typically having a plot that is unfolded by the actions, speech, and thoughts of the characters
  2. The literary genre represented by novels

In our contemporary world, the use of “novel” has shifted to focus more on the central character, than on the plot. Also playing a defining role in the novel, is the sense of realism. novels are developed as fictional stories the underlying element inherent in all are truisms based upon human behaviour and the ways in which we interact with others.

Novel Features

As a whole, the three primary features of a traditional novel include:

  • A cohesive, believable plot structure
  • Well-defined, credible characters
  • A strong undercurrent of reality

It has been said that a work of fiction is measured by how well, or poorly, the author is able to unify the story and control its impact. Therefore, the only obligation of the writer is to make the story flow well for the reader, and have strong elements of interest.

Classic Examples

  • Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), and Pride and Prejudice (1813); 
  • Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847); 
  • Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847); 
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850); 
  • Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851); 
  • Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884);
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925); 
  • Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926); 

Can anyone write a novel?

wanting to write a novel, and actually writing it, are entirely different things. In order to produce a novel, you first will need to create a structure around your project, define your objectives, and prioritize this project in your life to ensure you follow it through to completion.

Novel Writing: Rewards and Payoffs

Attracted by the following rewards and personal payoffs, many people do go forth with their plans to write a novel.

  • Satisfaction of achieving a hard-earned goal.
  • Medium to utilize creative skills, which may not otherwise be used in one’s professional life
  • Opportunity to hone one’s writing skills
  • Forum to focus one’s ideas and life experiences
  • Area over which one does not need to conform to anyone’s standards or rules
  • Outlet to showcase one’s theories, ideas and creative visions (albeit masked within a work of fiction)
  • Ego-gratification endeavor, culminating in one’s name appearing on the book jacket of countless copies
  • Lasting legacy

Regardless of what becomes of the finished product — picked up by a publisher, self-published, bestseller, etc. — the fact that you stayed the course in writing your novel is something that will remain with you for your entire lifetime.

Committing to the generation of your novel, and seeing it through to completion, is an endeavor that will leave you with a new-found confidence that will carry over on to any project you put before yourself.

Ideally, the following chapters will help you feel more secure with the novel-writing process and, thus, better able to navigate as you head out on this memorable journey.

I had to upload an assignment

Lesson 1 Assignment

Here is what I did:

My favourite novel that I like to read is called The Governess of Highland Hall and the Author of the novel is called CARRIE TURANSKY

I am a sucker for English Historical Romance novels, and when I read this front to back, I loved it from the characters to the setting to the situations etc. It is a perfect and ideal novel to look at as it is my favourite english historical novel based in England.

This is one of my favourite books because I am a sucker for English Historical novels and out of all the ones I have read, this by far has to be my favourite because of the story, and the writing is so easy to read, yet so eloquent and very English at the same time without it being too verbose. 

It gives you a beautiful feel overall when reading, because of the choice of words, and the way it is written. The author puts words in a very articulate and expressive way through the characters view points and sets a delightful tone throughout the story. 

When the reader is reading this kind of book I believe that they would be experiencing something pleasant as even though there is a section with conflict, the way it is beautifully written, it would give a feeling of delightfulness, which is also captivating, enchanting, joyful and cheerful. 

I also had to submit three paragraphs for my novel and submit an Exam.

LESSON 2

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: Read a lot and write a lot…reading is the creative center of a writer’s life…you cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.”– Stephen King

Novel Writing Boot Camp 101

Writing Schedules”Try to write every day; if you don’t, you’ll lose the rhythm of your prose, as well as features of the plot, characters and, most importantly, your ‘voice’, the very timbre of the book that you are trying to maintain.” 
— David Armstrong, author of How Not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Mid-list Author

Thus, in order to acquire a manner of discipline around your novel writing process, the first thing you will want to do (before mapping out the story lines, or fleshing out your characters), is to assess your project in terms of the total time it will require you to invest.

Once you have gained an idea as to the amount of time your novel will demand of you, you will then be able to determine when — during the course of your busy life — you will realistically be able to sit down, concentrate, and write.

if we were to effectively use the time on our writing that we spend aimlessly wandering the Internet or mindlessly watching television, then we should be able to carve out a sufficient number of writing sessions per week.

Focus/Motivation

After formulating a working writing schedule, you can shift your focus to the best ways for sustaining your motivation and ability to focus solely on your novel.

It is at this point that you may find yourself falling somewhat short in your ability to hold your attention throughout long, intense writing sessions. Fortunately, should you find this to be the case, there are numerous methods you can employ to increase your levels of concentration and motivation.Capturing your ability to focus on one activity for a sustained period of time, is something that can be greatly enhanced by integrating some form of regular meditation into your life. The simple act of learning how to sit still, and focus your mind, offers immeasurable benefits. Not only can it increase the satisfaction you derive on a daily basis, it can also contribute to your writing, in terms of allowing you to hold your thoughts for longer periods, and to explore multiple story scenarios without losing sight of the principle idea.

Helpful Novelist Tips

Chart your progress — Documenting the number of hours worked per day, and specific novel-related tasks accomplished, can be helpful in numbers of ways

Create an incentive for meeting your daily/monthly/overall writing goals — If you need to encourage yourself to stay on course, you may want to build in a series of goal-oriented incentives. 

upon wrapping up the entire novel, do something very, very nice for yourself! Go to the movies, buy yourself a new piece of jewellery, perhaps a pretty journal like I posted in my previous post, 4 Books to read this year in 2020. And buy yourself some flowers if no one else is going to buy them for you!

Good Health

As a whole, it is probably most important that, as you divide your time up among your family, friends, work, and writing, you pay attention to what you are eating, the amount of sleep you are getting, the time you are allocating to physical fitness activities, and the degree to which you are using stimulants, e.g., tobacco and caffeine.

While you are attempting to stay focused and encouraged, it is essential that you take good care of yourself to ensure that your productivity and the quality of your work do not suffer.

Lesson articles featured are:

How to overcome writers block: 14 tricks that work

Lesson 2 Assignment was:

Exercise: To get a realistic sense of the amount of work/time you will need to commit to writing your novel, take a few moments to look at your calendar and block out the day\times you can allocate to the project. You can begin by answering the following questions: 

1.  Realistically, how much time will you be able to commit per week to writing?

2.  Do you have an ideal timeframe for completing your novel?

3.  What types of activities, e.g., exercise, meditation, establishing calming environments can help you get and stay motivated during your blocked out writing sessions? 

I am about to submit this exercise tonight and then tomorrow will work on Lesson 3!

I showed you my example of my first assignment in Lesson 1.

In the comments tell me if you would enjoy doing a course on Novel Writing. Would you do Novel Writing 101?

What is your favourite novel to read?

Can you write Lesson 2’s exercise in the comments below?

Do you like to write during the day or night?

If you could quit your job and write for a living would you do it?

Emmalisa