Writing Historical Novels, Part Five: Elements – Plot and Setting: Time and Place #historical

Why do readers read Historical Romance and Historical Fiction?

When asked this question, the overwhelming answer is always ‘to bring the past to life’ and it’s our job as the author to do just that.

Nothing will pull a reader out of a historical novel faster than something or someone out of place. Whether it’s for the time period or the setting itself.

If done correctly, not only could you transport your reader into the past, but your setting and plot could become characters themselves.

So aside from props and attire, what will your setting will include?
  • Time period and Regionally correct Housing and Architecture

You wouldn’t want a 1860s Colonial Plantation mansion in the middle of 1930s New York, nor would you want a 1840s New York Brownstone in the middle of Alabama. Different eras had different architecture trends as well as different parts of the country even in that same year. Research, once again, is key to getting it right.

  • Entertainment – Time period theatrical Plays, Night Clubs, Sports, Operas, etc.

Want to give your story a little bit of historical detail? If sending your characters out on a night on the town, research particular plays or operas that were playing in that year in the city the novel is set in.

I remember in my novel, As the Liquor Flows, while at a party, Vincent Giovanni lied to one of his party guests about where he met Evelyn. The play I referenced as well as the city he mentioned was actually a real play that was showing in that city in 1929.

Will your readers know this? More than likely, no. But it’s still an amazing and interesting detail that you can use as promotion. Whether you write a blog post about it or share it in an exclusive way for your reader group or release party. Never underestimate the power of giving a reader an interesting story or tidbit of information they might not know anything about. They are historical novel readers, after all.

  • Restaurants – Use real life sites if you can and research pictures to accurately describe

Just as with your entertainment, using restaurants that  existed during your story is another great way to not only bring the past to life, but use as promotion.

In my novel, A Road Paved in Copper, I have my character visit a restaurant called The Cliff House. Not only was the restaurant really in business, but the history behind the place is practically a story itself. Of which made for interesting exposition that only made the place come more alive in the novel. Also, in existence back in 1903, the Silver Queen Hotel in Virginia City and Wyatt’s Saloon in Tonopah.

Thanks to internet, I was also able to view pictures of what the inside looked like in 1903, and I used those pictures to help me describe the place.

  • Landscape and the world around your characters

A quote that has stuck with me ever since I read it was by Harry Sidebottom, author of Warrior of Rome Series: “The past is another country, they not only do things differently there, they think about things differently.”

The landscape around your world should fit with it’s own time period.

  • And don’t forget about Sounds, Smells, and Tastes!

Sure, using the sense of sight is always the first one to go to when writing. But in your quest for words on a page, don’t forget the other four senses. Sometimes, they can have a more powerful impact than just what your character is seeing.

Be sure to check out the other parts of this series:

What is the difference?

Elements to Historical Fiction and Historical Romance

Rules for Historical Fiction and Historical Romance

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