Research, some writers love it and some find it a chore. I fall into the the first category. Give me an excuse to imagine life in another time, in another place, and I’ll take it on completely. Writers of historical fiction obviously need a sound background in the century of their book, not just in terms of history but also social mores, clothing, food, and every single detail between. Some writers go so far as to research old cookbooks and make whatever dish that is to be served to a character so the reader may share the experience. That’s dedication. Pass the pig trotters and mead, boys. I can only imagine what Diana Gabaldon had with Outlander.
Every story is a human story. It’s all about plunging a reader into a place and time so real they can experience being human in another century, under a different set of challenges. When society in the fictive world differs from the way you’ve grown up, the way you think is challenged, too.
What if you were an French-speaking Acadian girl banished from your colony up the Atlantic coast (now known as Nova Scotia) by the British in 1755 and shipped off to boggy Louisiana, just saying? What if you manage to find your way into the Ursuline convent, a convent sheltering young women from good French homes, with the view to marrying them off to the French settlers? The French King at the time, Louis XIV, fretted that New Orleans would grow into a cesspool of rowdies if they continued to breed with unsuitable women. His royal self decreed that the Order of St. Ursuline might properly harbor these French ‘Casket Girls’ shipped over from good French families as a way to improve the gene pool. Presumably, the irony of nuns training girls to be wives didn’t occur to him.
And then, circumstances change, as circumstances are wont to do. France gives Louisiana away in treaty to Spain in 1763 and a Spanish governor arrives to rule the French. Now you have a French convent housing French girls for the marriage market and the Spaniards are coming. Oh, just imagine the fun!
Back to the Acadian girl, for a moment. Her status as an orphaned peasant farmer’s daughter thrust her to the bottom of the French social heap from the beginning. Hierarchies existed even in convents. She would never be a mate for a proper French gentleman, not that there were many of those in New Orleans at the time. However, it turns out she’s clever, can speak both French and Spanish, and burns with rage. What a perfect pawn, what a perfect spy…
This is how a human story is born, this one playing out in two centuries inside the pages of Frozen Angel. Yes, I researched it to bits but the story drove me. The heart and mind of someone struggling to decide what is wrong and right in competing ideologies has always fascinated me. History provides such rich fodder. Stir in a lot of fact and even more imagination, and the writer creates a heady brew.
3 thoughts on “Give me History and I’ll Give you Life”
I am also a research fanatic so I can definitely relate. Many people groan about this stage of the drafting process but this would have to be my favorite. Uncharted territory. I write fantasy so its wide open spaces but that doesn’t mean I can just make everything up. Research is at the core of everything. Whether I’m building a city or an entire world, I still have to make it as accurate as possible. Great post 🙂
Reblogged this on The Journey and commented:
Great post by Jane Thornley
Thank you, Sammie. Fantasy research is no less engrossing. That has to be pure imagination pitted against super-natural situations. What does it feel like to ride a dragon, work a spell, tackle an entity?