To conclude this year’s series of posts on writing authentically in historical fiction, I am posting this entry that ran on the blog tour I did in 2014 for the launch of my first book WHEELS OF CHANGE. To celebrate the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of the book’s debut, I am giving away a signed copy of the book, and – if a teacher wins – a free classroom SKYPE visit for the 2019-2020 school year. Leave a comment at the end of the post and let me know what grade you teach. Curriculum guides and other goodies will be included with the book.
Authenticity in Historical Fiction
To create authenticity or believability in historical fiction is just like setting a scene in any kind of writing. The writer needs to pay attention to details. As a reader, I’m more likely to immerse myself in a story universe that is believable and accurate. If I want readers of WHEELS OF CHANGE to follow Emily Soper’s adventures, they have to be grounded in the reality of 1908 Washington DC.
What was life like in the Nation’s Capital 100 years ago?
It was very rural for one thing. With the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue, the area around the train station, and a few streets bordering 7th Street – the main street of commerce – there was only gas lighting and no electricity. Indoor plumbing was still a novelty. Many roads were unpaved or had cobblestones. There were farms and wooded areas surrounding the government buildings. Most people still rode in horse-drawn wagons, carriages, or buggies. Many goods were still made by hand. Incorporating these details into the story grounds it and fixes the time and place.
Character is another way to create an authentic story. When a story takes place in another era, the writer has to be sure to use language and sentence structure that rings true. In 1908, children spoke in a more formal style, like their parents. Very little slang was used. Children addressed other adults as Mr. or Mrs. and often used “sir” or ‘ma’am” when speaking to their parents.
A character’s actions and behavior was different than it is today. Expectations for males and females were much more divided and specific. Boys had more freedom to explore and be adventurous. They were expected to roughhouse and get into trouble now and then. Girls on the other hand, were expected to be lady-like and exhibit proper behavior at all times. They were encouraged to excel at the “domestic arts” such as sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and child rearing.
Here are some of the “Rules of Etiquette” young people were expected to follow at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
General Rules of Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen
13 Mannerisms to be avoided by all:
- Whispering or pointing in company.
- Giving attention to only one person when more are present.
- Contradicting parents, friends, or strangers.
- Laughing loudly.
- Making noise with hands and feet.
- Leaning on the shoulder or chair of another.
- Throwing things instead of handing them.
- Crowding or bumping elbows.
- Contempt in looks, words, or actions.
- Drawing attention to self with dress.
- Lending a borrowed book.
- Reading when there is company, or when others are speaking.
- Laughing at the mistakes of others.
Manners appropriate for all:
- To be gentle and patient with others.
- To remember that while speech is wonderful, it is sometimes better to be silent.
- Speak with a gentle tone and never in anger.
- Learn to deny yourself and put others first.
- Give applause only by clapping hands – not by kicking or stamping feet.
- Rise to one’s feet when an older person or dignitary enters the room.
All this makes me wonder: How many of these rules do any of us consider important today?