Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Writing Historical Fiction Simplified for the First-Time Author

by Debra (Companion of Lady Holmeshire) Brown

Though I am not a bestseller (yet), and I am only published once, I find that I am having quite some success and so feel that I am now qualified to explain to you how to write historical fiction. (Please do not check my qualifications with anyone who has read my book.) Be sure to take notes in complete faith, as remember, I am successful.

Writing HistFic is not as easy as writing contemporary work. It must be done in steps.

1) Set aside some years for research and sign up for NetFlix. You will need both streaming and physical DVDs for this tedious process.

2) It costs money to make money. If you are not working, take your Mastercard and buy a good supply of popcorn. Microwave popcorn is preferred as you have your work cut out for you. (Use your lowest interest card- it might be a while before your first check.) Few are able to research well without chocolate, but you will have to ration it to maintain your current weight, as you will not be getting any exercise. Do not cheat on the rations. (Under no circumstances should you set the portions so low as to injure your self-esteem. You must be able to say, truthfully, “I am, indeed, a person who never cheats.”)

3) Have your spouse take the children and raise them somewhere else.

4) Get a journal- a nice, pretty one with solid black paper inside, as it will be your best (only) friend for some years. And you do have a Mastercard. You may use pastel metallic gel pens, which are especially attractive on the black paper.

5) Now you must choose an era. Open NetFlix to Masterpiece Theater. What appeals to you? Is it Tristan, slashing at people? Or Henry and Eleanor arguing in winter? Perhaps you prefer Happily-Ever-After-With-Jane-Austen. (It is not yet prudent to watch Lost in Austen, even though her name is upon it.) Miss Marple and Poirot are a bit recent, but could, depending on your age, be considered historical fiction.

6) It is time for the research to begin. With popcorn and chocolate on the coffee table (have enough Espresso and Mountain Dew to stay awake until four a.m.) flop down on the couch. Get up and hunt under the cushions for the remotes. Flop down again, journal in hand. This is no time to do movie chats on Indie Jane (but if you do, sign in with an unfamiliar username so you can claim that you did not).

7) Get up and get your laptop. You must ascertain what era each of the shows is set in. How is this done? One sure-fire way is to check out the costuming. Should your favorite show have dresses with the waist-line up under the (blush) bosom, it is necessary to learn what that fashion is called. If you were not yet born to remember the one month that such dresses were popular in the sixties, get up and get your cell phone to call your mother. (No, that generation is NOT historical.) Ask your mother what the style was called. For our purposes, I will speed things up and tell you myself. Empire. Look up Empire dresses and scour several articles as to what era they were in besides the sixties. You will learn that they came from the Regency era. There is no need to learn that the Empire referred to was Napoleon’s, because most Regency novels you write will entirely ignore that there was a raging war going on to benefit Napoleon while your young men, who should be off to the war, fighting against him, are dancing in ballrooms. Now you have chosen the era in which your story will be set. (Note: I did not write “the era your story will be set in“. I went to ‘grammar’ school.)

8) Select a movie from your favored era. I recommend TV series as they have many episodes, and you have much to learn. Turn on the show and pick up your gel pen. Any doodling should relate to the seriousness of your task. This is work. You can change colors as often as you wish.

9) (English readers can skip this step. Shoo.) You will detect strange usages of language. This will be partially because it hails from past history, but mainly because it is from over the so-called pond. If you have not studied geography, you should know that you cannot walk to Britain. The language will grow on you, though. You might notice that upper-class personages in the film did not use words that puff out their cheeks or create other indelicate facial conditions. You will have to write their dialogue in compliance and practice their lines while looking in the mirror carefully. Now, they might not have bathed, or they might use a chamber-pot behind a screen next to the banquet table (though not in the movie, which was made to misinform on that topic), but they will not use words that puff out their cheeks or blow out candles for the same reason. You will begin to hear new words and phrases in the movies. In the future, you will do networking with English authors just for this reason. For now, just copy down anything which does not make any sense.

10) (The English can skip this step, too.) Due to cultural differences, this step will take several years. When you watch period-appropriate movies for research purposes, you will learn that one movie must lead to another. For example, when you are watching a movie which says something confusing, in utter disgust, like “Pray, what is taking them so long downstairs?”, you will need to open your laptop and put in a disc which has the correct search words, such as “Upstairs, Downstairs”. This will cause a two or three month delay in the original movie. If you properly rationed your chocolate and do not need to go shopping often, you might reduce the diversion to weeks.

11) Having watched all the movies of the period, you are ready to begin thinking up your own story. Many people cannot, and must rewrite or extend something of Jane Austen’s. (Whoops?) I do not recommend doing further research as it will only confuse you. You might note that the dress colors mentioned in scholarly works, for example, contradict what was artistically harmonious on the movie screen. And worse yet, scholarly works will not agree with each other. You can see the value, therefore, in sticking to our movie research methods.

12) Start with the ending. Write it down in pink for everlasting happiness, unless you are hung up on using a word processor. Gel pens are doodlier, though, and you do not want to wreck the historical atmosphere by using modern technology.

13) Once you know how the story ends, you can back up and figure out how to arrive there by some unexpected means. In this way, you can have some ordinary, normal life event for the ending, but no one will have dreamed that it could happen. While recovering from the shock, they will think that you are quite the author!

14) Now you will need to edit what you have written. Ernest Hemingway recommended many, many rewrites. The first time through, delete all references to texting, microwaves and Bubbalicious. Then think back a few more decades and remove telephones, psychedelic references and comic books. Probably do this before sending the book to your beta readers. They are not at all tactful and can injure your pride. No doubt your book will require more rewrites once they have kicked it around. You do not have to include them on your acknowledgments page.

15) At this point, you should be ready to search for an agent and become a published author. This may give rise to further differences in views of what makes for a good book. Do not let agents or publishers stop you. You have, after all, done your research- something that is not required of authors of ordinary, contemporary novels. Keep your chin up (do not ask a Brit how they say this- it’s embarrassing) and self-publish, if you must. Power to the people. This is where Jane Austen had troubles. Self-publishing was not yet invented, and she had to have relatives pull strings for her. You, however, live in the Age of Gel Pens.

16) Send your book off to reviewers and book bloggers. Do not give it to the neighbors. They won’t read it because they have a TV. You will have to wait and wait on book bloggers even, because they have free books coming from every direction. Eventually, though, you will start to have some reviews coming in. See mine as an example: http://authordebrabrown.blogspot.com/p/reviews-of-my-books.html.

I say, heartily- Congratulations on your beautiful little first book!

Um, I called mine The Companion of Lady Holmeshire. You will need to make up equally strange names. End them with suffixes like ton, shire, bury and ham. Start them with Victorian detective names.

You can read about my books on this site: http://authordebrabrown.blogspot.com. Determine for yourself whether you should take my advice. Ta!

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