Today we’ve got a twofer! I’m answering the last two Twitter questions. First up, Christina had a query about imposter syndrome vs. historical fiction:
Do you ever feel like you’ve captured the time period?
Capturing the time period is impossible, so I don’t aim to. The difficulty is that, while familiar, the past is a foreign country. (Nod to L. P. Hartley.) Whatever we think we know about the past has been filtered through other people’s impressions. Facts have been misreported; events can only be viewed through the prism of time. We have the benefit–and blinders of–hindsight. We cannot see the past clearly, so whatever we construct is, by definition, flawed in some capacity. The best we can hope for is to create something plausible. In order for that to be successful in historical fiction, we have to find the intersection between reality–as much as we can know it–and the reader’s belief of what the period was like. The more you study history, the more you realize that what you think you know about it is wrong. The average person will tell you Victorians were sexually repressed prudes who did nothing but go to church and worry about covering their table legs with fabric. While Victorian mores certainly represented a swing back to modesty and propriety compared with the Regency years, the common notion of uptight prudery is entirely wrong and largely limited to the middle classes. We know that well over 50% of the brides from the lower classes were pregnant when they wed, and the Prince of Wales set the fashion for hedonism and infidelity amongst aristocrats. (And if you think Victorians were stuffy about sex, I beg you to follow Whore of Yore on Twitter. There is nothing new under the sun, my dears.) Victorians were also familiar with vegetarianism, working out, department stores, seaside holidays, escalators, free love, and the rights of children and workers and animals. Artists and writers and lesbians all experimented with communal living, and new technology like photography and stereoscopy offered new outlets for pornography. But the average reader doesn’t know this, so throwing all of these facts into a book would make it feel inauthentic even though it’s entirely accurate. The key is to balance what people THINK they know with what actually existed, giving them the framework they expect but providing new details to color the picture within.
Finally, Ashley wondered:
Do you use any specific process–program, sticky notes–to keep characters and stories organized as you write?
My system is haphazard, but it works for me. I don’t use any programs because I loathe organizing on a screen. I only write on a computer and I only organize on paper. I will collage in order to collect faces that I want to remember for my characters, and occasionally I will use notecards for plotting, not for character details. I tend to scribble notes about appearances and mannerisms in the margins of my plot notes. When I’ve worked out how the next several scenes need to flow, I will sometimes print out a scene list as a reminder and tack that to the wall next to my computer. As the scenes get written, I will cross them off. It’s all random and makes no sense to anyone but me, yet that’s the trick. You have to know yourself and what works best for you. I’d be hopeless at using a program like Scrivener because I like to spread out my notes. I’m also the sort of learner who remembers things I have written down, so keeping notes by hand is essential for me. Figuring out what sort of memory you have is the first step in developing your own system. I used to try to conform to how other people did things because I thought it was right or proper, but I have long since learned that however I choose to do it is right for me. The combination of notecards, printouts, tear sheets, collages, and punch lists is the sort of controlled chaos that serves me best.
Heaps of thanks to all who posed questions on Twitter!