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Posts tagged ‘Anne Perry’

Using Language Specific To The Setting Of Your Novel, by Anne Perry

I agree with Alice from Alice in Wonderland: I don’t like a story that has no conversation.  But in what sort of language will your characters speak?  Will it be correct to the time and place of your story?  Well we can completely forget those set in ancient Egypt for a start, and countries where people speak a language other than our own.

The question really is, how about those who spoke our language (in my case only English, I’m afraid) but in a different period of time?  Vocabulary, references, even grammar change over a few years, never mind centuries.  And dialect changes from one area to another, over a very short distance in older countries.  And what do you do if your characters travel?

The choice is between being accurate and being understandable.  My belief is that if the reader doesn’t understand, if not exactly then at least approximately, then you will lose them.  Writing is, above all, an art of communication.  Some meanings can be guessed at.  In other places meaning doesn’t matter, it only adds colour, and if not understood will not spoil the story.  This might be the case with dialect words, and they can add a great deal of individuality to a setting or a character.  The same can be true of accent.  I suggest just a few altered sounds as enough to indicate difference.  You don’t want a reader stopping every few lines to try to work out what the word is.  Never break the spell, if you can help it.

Actually that just about sums it up.  If you confuse the reader or make them leave the story to look up a word, then it isn’t going to work.  You are trying to involve them, make them think and make them care.  You are not trying to confuse them and impress them with your scholarship.  If you want to do that, write a text book.

You need variation in vocabulary from one character to another.  Sometimes it takes a few re-writes to secure that – at least it does for me.  Some people use few words, some many.  People have favourite expressions, and so on.  (For heaven’s sake, don’t pepper it with ‘Gadzooks!’  or such phrases.  Did anybody ever say that?  With a straight face?)

The difficulty is to avoid neologisms, i.e. modern phrases we now use naturally, reference to events that have not yet happened, and the language that will come from them, inventions and discoveries not yet made, dishes not yet invented, music not yet written, countries not discovered (or re-named) fabrics and materials not invented – you get the drift.

I remember having someone’s heels click on linoleum – then wondering if it was even invented at the time, or, if it was, that it would be too new and expensive to be in the income level of the house I was referring to.  I looked it up and it was fine – but it might not have been.

My agent draws a little skull and crossbones sign on my manuscript where I have used a modern turn of phrase.  It happens now and then.  They are in my thoughts.  There is also the issue of modern grammar.  (There is no such word in English English (as opposed to American English and other forms of English) as ‘gotten’.  (Well-bred Victorians would say ‘I have’ rather than ‘I’ve got’.)

They are small things, a word here and there, but then an extra teaspoon of salt in your food is a small thing – but it ruins the flavour.  It is the sort of error you take care of when you re-write.  Polishing, tidying up can be fun.  Make it the best it can be.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

A Christmas HomecomingAcceptable LossSlaves of ObsessionThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     Wounds of Honour: v. 1 (Empire)Quest

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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Why Care About Characters In Historical Novels? by Anne Perry

Why should anyone care about characters in historical novels?  It all happened to other people, a long time ago, and very likely somewhere else.  The people involved are possibly not even ancestors of mine.  Plus, I live in the here and now.  So do you – but, at the very least, you stand on the shoulders of all those who went before.  You reap the harvest they sowed, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, politically and artistically.

Does it have to be about you to be interesting?  The world is infinitely bigger and more beautiful than any one person’s horizon.  As Shylock, a fictional Jewish money-lender in Italy, written about by a 16th – early 17th century Englishman, asks: ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?”  The most powerful experiences of humanity are common to us all.  That is what you want to build on in your stories.

By all means, get the history right.  For heaven’s sake, avoid major errors.  They will destroy people’s ‘suspension of disbelief’.  But keep your history lesson discreet.  The reader should feel: ‘I am there!  I feel it and taste it!’, not ‘I could pass an exam on this period if I wanted to!’

In all the books I have read on writing fiction of any sort, the instructors say that all kinds of error can be mended, except a lack of passion.  Setting, dialogue, character and even plot can be remedied with hard work.  Not lack of passion – that is a disease to death.

We need to know who we are rooting for, what they want and why it matters to them so much – then it will matter to us also.  We need to know what stands in the way of them getting it, therefore we need some common ground:

“I’m tired and cold and my feet hurt.  I can’t go another step!”

“I’m alone and I’m lost.  I’m scared stiff.  There’s somebody pursuing me!”

“I stare at the sunset and it is so beautiful, the last light on the fields tears at my heart, what will I do when it passes?  How do I hold on to glory?”

“How do I deal with grief, failure, the fear of death?”

“I look at the stars, countless even in the imagination.  How do they come into being?  Did somebody make them? If so, who am I to them?”

“I’m hungry.  Who will feed me?”

These could be anybody, anywhere and any time since the dawn of human life.  Tell me a story about them and I care.  It could be me.

Make the setting real, urgent and different.  Make it belong to a time and place where other things were expected.  But keep the heart the same.  The things that change are interesting and fun.  It is the things that are the same that make us care.

Enjoy the time travel – and take us with you!

Bon Voyage!

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelA Christmas HomecomingThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three NovelsAcceptable Loss     AuslanderClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

On Methods Of Travel In History (And Historical Fiction), by Anne Perry

One of the biggest differences over time is methods of travel. That includes the travel of words and ideas as well as of people and goods.  Today we can watch events on the other side of the world as they occur.  When studying to write my Byzantine story I was a bit shaken to learn that a letter sent from Constantinople (Istanbul today) could take six weeks to reach Rome.  If it were replied to immediately, it would still be another six weeks before it got back.  That is if the weather were reasonably favourable and no one met with bandits on the way overland, or storms on the sea part of the journey, or worse: pirates!  Then you could forget the whole thing!  This was one good reason for wanting to appeal to local church authorities and not to the Pope.

Conversely, in late Victorian London you could write a letter to someone else in London at breakfast time and expect to receive an answer before dinner that same day.  You certainly can’t do that by regular mail now.  It would take a couple of days if you’re very lucky.  Unless you want to spring for a messenger, of course.

For news, ask yourself: Were people dependent on a man on horseback, or in a wind or oar-propelled boat?

For letters, ask yourself: Who had paper? Who could read and write?  When and where were there envelopes?  When and where were there sealing wax and signet rings?  These might be minor details in your story, but they matter.  It isn’t getting it right so much as not getting it wrong.

When did telegraphs come in? What about semaphore flags?  What about smoke signals or drums?  What about telephones?  Who would have one?  What did it look like and how did it work?  i.e. direct dialling or through an exchange?  What about mobile phones, text messages or e-mails?  If you make a mistake, there will be someone who knows and will no doubt tell you.

There have been pamphlets for centuries.  When were there newspapers?

As for personal travel: slow, dangerous and uncomfortable covers a lot of it, but we need to be far more precise.  We need to be accurate in description, and vividly realistic in what it felt like.

What about ships: from canoes to ocean liner, wind powered (very dependent on weather), steam powered, oil/petroleum powered or nuclear powered? What sizes were the relevant kind of ships?  Some of them that circumnavigated the world were tiny, only a few paces from one side to the other.  Present day luxury liners are floating cities.  They are all like islands surrounded by perhaps thousands of miles of water, alone in a unique way.

What about planes: from tiger moths to jumbo-jets, and all points between?  Again, they are like islands, but in the sky.

On the ground, there is an almost endless variety of travel methods. There is underground railway, which thrived in London in later Victorian times.  There is surface railway, all over the place, some very pedestrian and some marvellously exotic like the Orient Express or the railroads across India.  Get times, stations and prices right.  That still leaves the whole world of horse drawn vehicles, from pony carts to omnibuses, not to mention other animals – dogs, oxen, camels and so on.  Last of all, people have their own legs as a method of travel.

Travel can be uncomfortable.  There are not necessarily any conveniences available.  There may be no privacy.  There was very little heating in most forms of early travel.  You would carry your own means of warmth or heating, if you could.  There may have been inns of one sort or another, but not always with room available.  Lodgers may have been required to share a bed. There may have been dangers of weather and, equally unpleasant, of pirates, brigands or highwaymen.  Not to mention simply getting lost.

Even with our present occasional delays and discomfort, we have more to be grateful for than many realise.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelSlaves of ObsessionA Christmas HomecomingThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     The Mathematics of Love (P.S. (Paperback))True Soldier GentlemenEscape by Moonlight

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Establishing Time And Place In Novel Scenes, by Anne Perry

The reader needs to know as soon as possible, at least roughly, when and where the story is taking place.  Unless told otherwise, we tend to make assumptions and then are put off if they turn out to be wrong.  If we are drawn into the story, we picture the people and the places, probably drawing on what is familiar to us already, and invest the characters with our own feelings.  It breaks the emotional link if we have to rub it out and start over again.

There are ways of telling the reader.  Some are very unsubtle, like putting up a heading, e.g. Berlin, 9th November, 1938.  That tells you something very precise, but does it make the hair stand up on the back of your neck?  It does if you know that it was a night of horror that has become known in history as ‘The Night of Broken Glass’, a turning point in the persecution of Jews just before World War ll.  We are not all historians, nor do we all have memories with such exact retention.  Anyway, telegraphing it ahead like that is a bit clunky.  It is better to feel it, and there are several ways to achieve that.  We need not only to know, we need to feel it, and to care.

An observation about clothes can help.  Is your hero wearing breeches?  Or a toga?  Chain mail armour?  A military redcoat?  A burnouse?  Has your heroine a puritan collar, a lace ruff, a farthingale, a floor-length gown by Balenciaga?  And so on.  Such things can also give useful information like occupation or social class – not to mention sartorial taste!

Transport can be very telling, particularly the time it takes to get from one place to another.  A car?  What make, and what speed?  A hansom cab?  A post chaise?  A fiacre (you don’t get many of them!)  A sedan chair?  A tumbril (don’t get many of them either, thank goodness!)  Trains – The Flying Scotsman or The Orient Express?  An Aeroplane?  What is the condition of the roads – indeed, are there any?  (Signposts are a bit of an obvious device.)

Street lights?  Gas or electric?  Lanterns?  Rush torches with tar and flames?

What can you hear?  Wind, waves, machinery?  What can you smell?  (You don’t need to be too graphic about that!  We have less tolerance to bad smells than we used to.)

Domestic surroundings can be pretty good, such as furniture, fabrics, lighting and types of fireplace.  Are there windows, and do they have glass in them?  You can use any of these (but not all of them!), without it clogging up your first few paragraphs.  Domestic equipment can be excellent.  Use the flat iron while you are having a vital conversation!  Or stoke the fire, do the laundry, vacuum the floor etc.  Do you turn on the tap for water, or go out to the pump in the yard, or fetch from the well.  That will ground you in the here and now – or the there and then, as the case may be.

Food is good too, it can be very particular to time and place, and social position.  What is for breakfast, and do you make it for yourself?  Porridge, then devilled kidneys, tea, toast and bitter marmalade?  Or pancakes and maple syrup, OJ to drink?  Fresh croissants and a small, strong coffee?  You get the idea.  The reader is informed by tasting, seeing as the characters do.  They are not told where they are, they simply feel it.  Exactness can come later, when it is needed and fits in naturally.  Enjoy your journey.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

Treason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelAcceptable LossSlaves of ObsessionA Christmas Homecoming     Spartacus: The GladiatorThe Sultan's Wife

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Science And Technology In Historical Novels, by Anne Perry

Science and technology can serve several purposes in a story.  The great caveat at the very beginning is: Don’t confuse or bore people with details that have nothing to do with the story.  If we want the history of invention and discovery we’ll read a textbook on the subject.  To understand the details of scientific discovery we might need at the very least a degree in mathematics and possibly basic physics.  We want to tell stories.

Science and technology, particularly the latter, are excellent for giving us a very sharp sense of time period (and make us pretty grateful that we live when we do).  Daily life is full of technology.  The kitchen is a great place to start.  All sorts of vital conversations can be held over meals or chores.  What do you cook your food with?  An open fire?  A range oven you have to clean out, re-set and light every morning?  A microwave?  How do you get your water?  Will it be hot if you turn on the tap?  Do you even have running water in the house?

Note – Caesar’s Roman soldiers who staffed Hadrian’s Wall on the English-Scottish border had under-floor central heating.  It isn’t always a matter of time.  The medieval Byzantines were pretty good with running water, toilets, tiled floors, etc.

But you get the idea.  There are also tiny things like safety pins, thumb tacks, erasers, paper clips, blotting paper (as opposed to a tray of sand).  How do you make soap?  When could you buy it?  Canned goods?  Zip fasteners – a whole lot better than rows of buttons.  When did people discover rubber, or elastic?  When did people first get glass windows?

The big thing is not to get it wrong.  You may get no praise for being right, but you’ll certainly get plenty of blame for being wrong.

Science is another field and, for those who tell stories, possibly a more fertile one.  Getting the science of a time and place correct is important, exactly as it is for technology, but it is a field far more full of passion.  Technology might arouse greed, but science can strike at the core of what we believe of God and man, and the rest of the universe.

Science is the exercise of the ever-enquiring mind.  Present knowledge can always be improved upon.  No theory is worth even considering if it is not capable of being tested, and therefore disproved should it be in error.  Religion, on the other hand, is very often received wisdom and belief handed down through the generations, and to question it or attempt to change it is often considered as heresy.  It threatens the heart and soul of man. It destroys safety and even civil order.  How many people have been put to death for questioning an orthodox faith, usually in extremely unpleasant ways?  The Inquisition and The Scopes Trial are only a couple of well-known examples.

The whole subject of physical truth and spiritual truth can give you stories of intellectual honesty or dishonesty, passion, belief, rage, fear, the struggle for identity, the loyalty to family roots, versus integrity to what you conceive to be the truth, whether you like it or you don’t.  Perhaps above all, it is the courage to face what is, whether it costs you and whatever else you have to re-think.

It is the greatest of all struggles – and so the greatest of stories.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

We Shall Not SleepTreason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelAcceptable LossSlaves of Obsession     A Secret AlchemySend Me Safely Back AgainBetrayal

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

History Repeating Itself And Historical Novels, by Anne Perry

We are told that those who do not learn from history will be condemned to repeat their mistakes.  There is a lot of truth in that.  Certain types of events, and the emotions and reactions they cause, repeat themselves every so often.  If you are looking for a setting for soldiers, war, courage, loss etc, and all the other feelings that go with that, I don’t need to tell you that you are spoiled for choice.  You might think of making it sharper and more surprising by choosing a war people are less familiar with, but which contains all the specific elements you are looking for.

How about threat of very immediate invasion to a relatively small country which is ill-prepared?  Some time ago I read a very powerful speech, actually a pretty terrific piece of oratory, on exactly that subject.  I was not familiar with it, although I recognized the situation perfectly.  It was not Winston Churchill on World War II, so I thought it must be someone, possibly Lloyd George, early in World War I.  Not at all, it was actually William Pitt the Younger early in the Napoleonic Wars.  Even to the details, the points were exactly the same.  Perhaps if I read them, the great classical Greek orators would have said the same things to the Athenians facing the Persian invasion?  We still run the Marathon, even if we have forgotten Pheidippides, and the reason for it.

Do all enemy occupations and native resistance forces have more in common than time and place which separate them?  Perhaps Judas Maccabeus and the Judean resistance to Rome have much in common with Queen Boudicca’s British resistance, again to Rome?  Or Hereward the Wake’s Saxon resistance to the Norman Conquest?  Or any other throughout history!  Some succeed and some fail, but they all have the same passion, sacrifice, loyalty, betrayals etc.  They all have to work in secrecy, and with terrible loss.

What about physical exploration into the unknown?  Great journeys – treks to the North or South Poles, Marco Polo from Italy to China, Burton to find the source of the Nile; Magellan, Vasco da Gama, James Cook around the world by sea.  Scores of others, take your pick.  The emotions, the fear, the exhilaration, despair, triumph, the bonding between people who have shared something no one else has seen – these must be the same.

Of course the voyages of the mind will share the same exhilaration of bursting upon a new world of discovery also, and probably a persecution for daring to question the status quo, sometimes even to death.  And yet they cannot stop searching for the truth – in science, art, philosophy, anything at all that matters.  So all the various concepts of Utopia share most of the same dreams – and disasters?  Are all religious revivals and persecutions similar in the passions and doubts they awaken?  Probably, because our needs are always the same, our loves and hungers, our dreams and the things we fear.

Marriage customs will differ, but love will not, jealousy will not.  Religions differ, but does faith?  Maybe the hungers of the mind to believe are always the same, and the dark nights of the soul when we doubt.

Consider putting your story in a new and more unexpected time and place where we will not see what we expect, and so will be taken unaware and look at it in a more vivid way.  Take us on your explorations.

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

We Shall Not SleepA Christmas HomecomingTreason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelAcceptable Loss     Powder Monkey: Adventures of a Young SailorFortress of Spears (Empire)The Keeper of Secrets

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

Clothes In Historical Novels, by Anne Perry

Clothes are a wonderful feature to describe, for lots of reasons.  First of all, the appearance of them will tell us quite a lot about where we are, and in what period of time, possibly even the season and climate.  In more recent years with which we are familiar we can even pinpoint a decade.  At the very least we will register a difference from the present day and be prepared not to make assumptions.

They may also give us the occupation of the person and maybe the social rank, wealth or lack of it, and a good deal about character and personal taste.

We like decorations, insignia, uniforms, badges, marks of achievement and office.  We like to both belong and to be individual.  At a more sophisticated level we try to compensate with dress for what we think we lack by nature.  We would like to be a little taller, fatter, thinner, have curves in different places, or more of them, or less of them.  We want to be conspicuous, or inconspicuous.

Our function in life may need special clothing: armour, camouflage, protection against weather, uniform to show our office, fire helmets, miners’ lamps, fishermen’s waders, cowboys’ chaps etc.  These are all quite open.  Far more fun are the things that are unintentionally revealing, and what they may tell us, if we are observant.  For example: the shoes that are unevenly worn, those well-polished tops and frequently mended soles, the gloves that hide the hands, the trousers with baggy knees or a shiny seat.

Women’s clothes can be endlessly tell-tale: the choice of colour, discreet or loud, this year’s shade or last year’s?  It has been taken in – did it belong to someone else and is a hand-me-down, or even borrowed?  The dress that has been let out!  Is it also borrowed, or she has put on weight!

Choice of style can be everything: who you are, who you wish to be, what you think are your strengths and your weaknesses, and even how well you really know yourself.  It can be a statement or a mask.  There is so much you can say about a character in a single observation.

There is also, of course, how they feel.  I once had the privilege of wearing late Victorian clothes for a day, as a film extra.  Believe me, Victorian corsets are a killer! And not necessarily in the places you would expect.  No wonder some of them had ‘fits of the vapours’.  No nice, lightweight synthetic fabrics.  Then, those dresses with the long, full skirts weigh a ton!  And they are suffocating in the heat.  No sandals – boots please, all the time!  Getting in and out of the whole thing is a major undertaking.  Slacks or jeans have never looked so appealing!  Imagine walking with those skirts wet, slapping around your ankles, and probably freezing cold.

Women’s clothes very much reflect their place in society: Regency – like larger children; mid-Victorian – ever tried to move around in a hooped skirt?; 1920s flappers – all about freedom, and so on!

Of course, keeping them clean is a whole other world!  No wonder laundry took all week.  Some of them even had to be unpicked to be cleaned!  And then of course re-sewn up again.

Hail the washing machine and steam iron – not to mention the dry cleaner!  We have all the fun without the bother!

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Anne Perry’s author website: www.anneperry.co.uk

Anne Perry’s bio page

***

United States (and beyond)

    

United Kingdom (and beyond)

    

Australia (and beyond)

We Shall Not SleepA Christmas HomecomingTreason at Lisson Grove: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt NovelThe William Monk Mysteries: The First Three Novels     BetrayalAll Together in One Place: A Novel of Kinship, Courage, and FaithClaude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

Writing Historical Novels
www.writinghistoricalnovels.com

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