Whether real or imagined, characters behave in keeping with the era they inhabit. That’s just one of the secrets to writing Historical novels that people will love to read. They don’t want to read about a man or a woman who acts as though it’s 2018 when the novel is set in 1800s. It just doesn’t work. Period.
As a Historical author, you must write your characters to fit into the attitudes, beliefs and expectations of their time period. It’s your job and your mission as writer is to reveal the people of the past, not the people of the future in the past. Well, unless you are writing a time travel. Then you would do just that. *wink wink*
So how do authors do that?
Show correct etiquette rules for each proper social caste
One of the best things you can do when starting a new novel set in another time period is start your research on how people acted with and toward one another. My first non-fiction purchase when I began The Woman on the Painted Horse, was a 1860 Etiquette Rules Handbook. Other books I have found helpful are the ‘Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life’ series. You can find them on Amazon. Above all, research! It will be your
mortal enemy best friend!
However, let them push boundaries (within reason). While it was more behind closed doors than in public remember that people rebelled against social norms.
My character Ava De La Vega in A Road Paved in Copper is based after one of these women.
Her name was Ferminia Sarras, and she was a miner. A woman miner. A very rich woman miner because she knew how to mine better than most men. She also was a rather promiscuous woman and she spent her whole life not only mining, but traveling to San Francisco where she blow her fortune on fancy hotels, fine dining, and hoards of younger men.
For her time period, Ms. Sarras definitely did not fit the social standards for a woman. However, she was a real person. She lived and she lived her life the way she wanted.
To read more about her story, click HERE.
Dating, Courtship, and Marriage has evolved throughout the years. Make sure your historical couples follow the trends for their time period.
Romance in early 18th century was as different as the 19th century, which is even more different than the 20th century. What once began as an institution for social capital, decorum, and familial oversight, now revolves around love, trust, and the desire to spend the rest of your lives with another person. Again, this is where your research will become key.
Women committed crimes, not just men
History is chalked full of women criminals. Some stories are even worst than anything a man could do. Don’t believe me? Recently, I came across a dandy little tale about a woman in Edgefield, South Carolina named Rebecca ‘Becky’ Cotton Kennedy. In the late 1790s she went on to murder not one, not two, but three of her husbands rather brutally, too.
You can read about how she killed them, how she got away with it, and how she died HERE.
Women traveled to faraway destinations, working and fighting alongside their husbands
I remember the first time I had a reviewer give me a low star rating on my novel, In the Land of Gold, because “women didn’t do those things [trek up the Klondike to hunt for gold] back then.” My first reaction was that I laughed. My second was that I said aloud, “I guess this person has never heard of Klondike Kate or any of the other hundreds of real women who did trek up the Klondike. Some with their husbands and some alone.
To read about ‘Women of the Klondike’, click HERE.
Be sure to check out the other parts of this series:
Elements to Historical Fiction and Historical Romance
Rules for Historical Fiction and Historical Romance