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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

Historical Fiction Writing with Universal Class LESSON 2

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ELEMENTS OF HISTORICAL FICTION

Every genre of fiction has its own special elements. The elements of historical fiction are varied. They include characterisation, setting, plot themes, and specific styles and tones.

Characterization

Let’s start with characters.

Your characters may be real people that have lived in the past.

Oftentimes, these people are famous but, of course, they do not have to be. You may do research on someone who lived in the past and shape your story around them in order to give more notice to that character. They may be someone you feel should be noted for deeds accomplished but so far, is a bit overlooked, historically speaking.



A recent novel titled Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin is a good example of this. This is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of the girl who would later become Alice in Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland. Additionally, it tells a bit of the story behind Lewis Carroll.

The story is historical fiction because we could never be privy to all of these conversations and thoughts, but for all the research the author did, we have an excellent idea of how things were and what happened.

Another option is to create completely original characters who are not based on anyone who has ever lived. If you do this, in order to make it historical fiction, you must set your characters in a historical period. Choose a specific date or event and then do as much research as you can to bring the story to life.



One thing that happens in historical fiction–that happens in all fiction, is that your characters will change over the course of your novel. The difference here is that this usually occurs because the characters are shaped by their settings.

Setting

The setting of your novel is so very important in historical fiction, almost more so than in any other genre of fiction. It is almost a character in itself. Your characters are shaped by it. Because your story is historical and set in the past, your characters will be defined by it.

It means you must also research the moral constraints of the time period.

What were the social constructs of the day?

What was acceptable and unacceptable in terms of behavior?

As your characters are shaped by this, they will change and grow throughout the story based on these morals, constraints, and patterns of behavior.

It is also important to note that you will set your story in a specific geographical place and time. This will require lots of research. Make sure you know everything you need to know about your chosen place and time, and everything your readers will want and need to know to help them through the story.

We will talk more about research in a later lesson, but be prepared. Know that research is your best friend and the most essential tool when writing for this genre.




Plot Elements

The plot elements in an historical fiction novel can be quite unique, especially when compared to the plots of other genres. For example, the problem or problems in your historical fiction novel will usually be a result of the time and place that the story is occurring.

Another way that your conflicts or problems will be a result of time or place may simply be those moral constraints we talked about before. If you are writing a historical fiction romance novel, the courtship rituals were much different back then and this could be your characters’ problem, or it could be some type of familial censuring, such as an arranged marriage, which is causing the difficulties in your story.

Your research will be a great help in showing the reader this problem and allowing them to understand where your characters are coming from.

You want your readers to read along and really feel as if your story happened, the way readers do in Alice I Have Been. You cannot possibly know everything about the characters or the time period, you want your readers to feel that you do. They should be so swept up in your writing that they never stop to question or contradict a point. This is where a good, solid plot line comes in, as does good, solid research.

Theme

The themes of historical fiction are somewhat similar to the themes of any genre, which mostly is good versus evil. However, in historical fiction, we use the people and events from the past to shed light upon some basic truth about the past.

Style and Tone

The style of an historical fiction novel includes a great deal of detail. You want to use as much accuracy as possible. Your reader must feel like they are there, in the story, in that place and time, if you want to be successful.

Style is a very important element when writing for this genre.

If you were to write an historical fiction novel without giving any thought to the style, it might come out a little, well, odd. Because you live today and you are writing about the past, the language, word choice, vocabulary, etc. might not sound quite right. What you need to do is to come up with a style and a tone that fit with your story.

For an assignment I have to choose one historical figure and characterise them, so off I go! There is an assignment to complete for this lesson for that and then an exam to submit.

I think character is important and setting are the main ones you have to start off with as it sets the tone for the rest of your writing.

I have a novel in the works while I write this, and have written three chapters but I may have to learn to be more verbose and include more dialogue in it as I included in my first assignment in the first blog post series I did for this. I mentioned in my Introduction that I am more descriptive rather than putting lots more dialogue but I believe that you have to have a balance.

This next week I will be working on the rest of the Lesson while working at small goals of assignments and exams for each lesson, so I will post each lesson on the blog!

I hope you enjoy!

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An Englishman’s Prayer


Today I am sharing with you one of my most favourite poems:

Lord, when I die, please let it be in Spring, 🌷

Let me see the swallows and hear a robin sing; 🐦

Help me to my window to see a butterfly 🦋

And watch the dreamy spiral of a lark up in the sky. 🦅

Let me hear the bleating of a new born baby lamb, 🐑

The gurgling of the water as it overflows the dam; 💦

The busy, busy buzzing of the ever active bees 🐝

And gentle sound of breezes whispering in the trees. 🌲

Let me enjoy the scent of spring when it comes to my last day

For that will give me pleasure as I gently slip away.

And may the last thing that I see be a little baby’s smile: 👶

For all these things have made my stay on this old earth worthwhile.

An Englishman’s Prayer 🙏

CREDIT: – Roy Hobbs –

What I am dreaming of in 2018


The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. …

So, it’s a New Year. It is 2018 and I am ready to rock! Bring out the planners. Create a fresh new vision! Build my future and further business/work/blogger prospects.

Before I tell you my favourite books or quotes of the year, I want to reflect on the year ahead. I want to broaden my writing prospects. Study more. Read more. Have more “quiet times”. Be more community involved. Join a church. I have just started attending KingdomCity in Wangara here in Western Australia with the senior pastors, Mark and Jemima Varughese. Their vision is “connecting, equipping and empowering people to bring the reality of God to their world.”

But I just want to further my education goals and reach higher. Aim higher. Get more and better fast tracked results health wise, financial wise or any goal-oriented points I put myself into.

My dream.

One word.

London.

Full stop.

I am enjoying the peace and quiet in Landsdale to reflect on what I personally want and strive to do. I have done the Reverse Bucket List last year. Tick!

I have set goals.

I want to be creative in my ideas.

But now is my time to put things into action and for once, use my decision-making skills and learn the decision-making process.

I have set goals and tasks, which I could share with you, but all I am thinking is, the “refresh” button. I want to start all over again, renew my thoughts, clear my mind, do it with a clean slate.

I am a goal oriented girl, and constantly talk about goals whether they’re long or short! My full dreams and aspirations and all the things I want to achieve. I am a very creative type, so doing things to create a program and become creative in everything I do would definitely help. I would love to create a platform for women to gain confidence in themselves. Starting a finishing school in Perth would also be a huge ambition/dream. I am ready!

Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible. …

So, I am pulling out “Your Beautiful Business” Book by Emma Franklin Belle and going to re-read this short inspirational book to see if I can turn my dreams of this blog into a business.

Emma Franklin Bell is the founder of The Beautiful Business Academy (The BBA). The BBA is an entrepreneurial academy for creative women who want to accelerate the growth of their businesses and successfully build their brands.

Your Beautiful Business Book inspires you to leap into your business and build something that is soulful, purposeful and profitable!

Next up, I will go through the book step by step about decluttering and building a stand out clear vision for my business. Bring on 2018 with some new fresh ideas and a heart full of many desires. I will be working on a book review of this book in my next blog post.

Any tips?

Have you started a business?

What are your goals for 2018?

Have you got any writing goals?

Any travel goals?

Also, what do you think of me starting a Finishing School in Perth for young ladies? Please comment below your thoughts. I would LOVE to hear from you!

Set your goals high, and don’t stop till you get there.

P.S. I will add my favourite books of the year and do more Book Reviews this year along with some different self-help quotes in a new blog post.

Also, don’t forget to check out Emma’s website and claim your FREE copy of her book!

Creating Characters


Hello everyone.

Before we dive into the next topic in the Writing 101 series, there is a housekeeping issues I’d like to address. I have decided that I will publish writing posts not once but twice a week. You heard correct. That is twice not once a week. These days are Monday and Friday. I am going to try my best to get one done and published on Friday which will begin this new routine. Now for this evening’s topic.

Characters

Every book (whether good or bad) has characters. It is not a book or a story with a cast of main characters and secondary characters.

As the title suggests, main characters are the ones that drive the story.

For example, Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings drive the story. The same goes for Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

What should an author’s characters look like? Most characters are shaped from the author’s experiences. They are a form of who the author knows and of herself.

Developing characters that are based on yourself is totally okay too. Many authors before us have done this. I have two examples of this.

The first comes from one of my favorite childhood authors: Madeleine L’Engle. She wrote the famous Wrinkle in Time series and the Vicky Austen series.

When asked if she was like her heroines, she responded that she was both Meg Murray from A Wrinkle in Time and Vicky Austen.

My second example is J.K. Rowling. Rowling based the character of Hermonine a bookish young red head on herself.

Now, how does one go about forming a character? Well, it is safe to say that it is good to start perhaps with a name. Then from there start describe the person. Does she or he have blue eyes? Brown? Hazel? What hair color do they have? Where do they live?

But characters are more than just how they look. You need to make them three dimensional.

What does that mean? It means you must make your characters as real as possible. Readers must feel as if they characters they are reading about are real. Like someone they have known all their lives. Otherwise they won’t care about the story.

A while back I came across a wonderful worksheet for writing characters. A worksheet that goes beyond just giving your character a name, eye color, and hair color but it goes deeper to help you flesh them out.

Character Chart

I hope you find this chart helpful. Please let me know how forming your characters goes in the comments below. I’d love to hear how it goes! I am also filling out this chart for my characters in my new story.

Comment below and I will share how it is going for me as well. Stay tuned for the next installment which will be coming out on Friday. Until then, happy writing!

This is part of the Writing Series, Writing 101 with Gabrielle Emmons. The first post was “How to start a novel”.

“How to start writing your novel” – with writer, Gabrielle Emmons


Recently I have been talking and collaborating with my very good friend, (a novelist and history enthusiast), an intelligent, studious and amicable lady who strives for greatness in her writing, Gabrielle Emmons. We have been talking a lot about writing in general and I came up with the idea of her doing a guest post on how she begins to write a novel. This is fantastic for those who are budding authors, ready for a new breathe of fresh air or something to their writing life.
I am proud to introduce her to my blog and with the upmost sincere thanks and gratefulness to have her feature on here.
You will find the full article here on her blog, Gabrielle M Emmons and you will also find that she works and keeps up with her own numerous blogs showcasing her work and authorship.
My absolute favourite blog of hers is Tea, Books and Britain because well, you know me! I have become the bit of an Anglophile! And the title is just Oh so perfect! And sums up my life basically. A cup of tea while watching “Escape to the country” or “60 Minute Makeover” has truly been the highlight of my afternoons.
Before I post her article I totally recommend for you to check out her excellent Book Review on “The Mark of the King”. This description on the back cover definitely makes me want to delve into it.

After being imprisoned and branded for the death of her client, twenty-five-year-old midwife Julianne Chevalier trades her life sentence for exile to the fledgling 1720s French colony of Louisiana, where she hopes to be reunited with her brother, serving there as a soldier. To make the journey, though, women must be married, and Julianne is forced to wed a fellow convict.

When they arrive in New Orleans, there is no news of Benjamin, Julianne’s brother, and searching for answers proves dangerous. What is behind the mystery, and does military officer Marc-Paul Girard know more than he is letting on?

With her dreams of a new life shattered, Julianne must find her way in this dangerous, rugged land, despite never being able to escape the king’s mark on her shoulder that brands her a criminal beyond redemption.

So, even if you haven’t clicked on that review, bookmark it or save it on your internet and make sure you get that little glimpse of a story of great and hopeful history. It truly has made me want to read it very soon!
In her Writing 101 – a new series blog post she states how we specifically have been discussing the idea on HOW to BEGIN writing a novel. It has truly been amazing talking with her about ideas and brainstorming and starting that novel in particular.
Now, let’s get started with her article which was published on September 12th 2017 on her History with Flair website. Grab yourself a drink (tea or water) and a notebook & pen or laptop. There is an activity at the end!

Many people have asked me how do I start the process for writing a novel. They have also asked me how do I find inspiration/ideas. So I thought I would do a blog series featuring writing. This is the first in the series and you can find more about it here.
So pull up a chair, grab your favorite beverage (mine is tea), and let’s get started. (Just a heads up there will be an assignment at the end of this post. But it shouldn’t be too bad).
First off, there is no one way to start the process of writing a novel. Each author has their own way of how to start that is unique to them. The key is to find one that works for you.
For example, some have a vague idea right away. Others have pictured a character or characters. Again, others have a couple of scenes already figured out.
It is all up to you.
For me, it varies. For my WWII novel set in England (which I have put on hold for now), I already had a vague understanding the plot.
For my Autumn themed story that is currently in the very early stages, I knew I wanted to have setting of the novel be during the Autumn months in MA because I love the Fall. I also knew who my main characters were.
Okay, homework time.
I want you to grab your favorite notebook and writing utensil. You can use your laptop if you prefer to type. I usually for this stage write it in a notebook and then transfer it to the computer later on.
Now, I want you to write down five ideas that could be potential stories. Don’t feel bad if you can only come up with one and two. It is a start.
The most important thing to remember is to have fun. Writing a novel should be fun.

How did you go with the activity?
I thought I would share one idea I came up with. Here is what I wrote:
Idea 5. Professor Wickman travels to London to start a new job at the City University of London. Committing his time and energy to his work and study is his priority and is all work, but through a period of time he learns to apply his work to excellence and focus on a project with his enchanting partner Lady Grosvenor from the affluent suburb of Mayfair. They eventually fall in love whilst working together and get married at St George Hanover Square.
It is not a complete idea but that is an example of ideas. First off starting with the main character, then a setting, place or particular location, the body and then the minor character fixed in there somewhere.
I skipped a whole part of what “could be” (a long plot) There could be so much more I could add to it and I am excited at the thought of creating a story again!
but I liked the idea of this so much I am thinking I am giving away a good story already! Well, that can be my next project!
Emmalisa

Ten Tips to Help You Write More Words


 

1. Write with instrumental music playing in the background. I recently saw an informal survey that found those who listened to music while writing were able to write more words per day than those who didn’t. I like to write with instrumental praise music or movie soundtracks playing in the background. Some of my favorite soundtracks are Prince of Tides, The Cider House Rules, and Little Women. You can even download the Original Music from the television series soundtrack, Downton Abbey, and there is a CD called “The Ultimate Collection”. It has music from all Six Seasons.

Continue reading “Ten Tips to Help You Write More Words”

A “Sunday” Poem


sunny_daffodils-2

To Daffodils

Fair Daffodils, we weep to see
You haste away so soon;
As yet the early-rising sun
Has not attain’d his noon.
Stay, stay,
Until the hasting day
Has run
But to the even-song;
And, having pray’d together, we
Will go with you along.
how-to-fertilize-daffodil
We have short time to stay, as you,
We have as short a spring;
As quick a growth to meet decay,
As you, or anything.
We die
As your hours do, and dry
Away,
Like to the summer’s rain;
Or as the pearls of morning’s dew,
Ne’er to be found again.
ALL CREDIT GOES TO ROBERT HERRICK
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