Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Historical Fiction/Historical Facts

She waved a pair of scissors. "Look what I forgot to give back to Mr. Applegate."

Uh oh. Dang it. When were scissors invented? Off I go to google scissors. Were they around in 1805? Yes. Whew. Back at the manuscript, I begin typing again, but my mind is not focused. What kind of scissors were around in 1805? Were they the spring scissors, like sheep sheers, or pivoted? Were they easily available? Would they be likely to be in Mr. Applegate's possession?

More research.

It is okay. He probably would/could have had a pair of scissors. Okay, back to the manuscript. ("Okay" was not used in 1805, by the way, and it is really difficult for me to avoid using "okay" when, really, it is one of my favorite words--just saying.)

So all this took about fifteen minutes. Just to write those two lines. As one writes historical fiction, one must investigate historical fact. In my book, I never say what type of scissors they are, but I'd better dang well know that they were readily available to someone in Mr. Applegate's position. It is the little, tiny, insignificant details that give historical fiction its flavor.

If they were around then, but not easily available, the next line could reflect that.

"He's probably frantic. You've got to get them back to him."*

If they were available, but very expensive:

"How much do you think we could get for them?"*

If they were likely to be unimportant until the next time they were needed, then maybe following with this would be fine:

"I guess you'll have to return them, but not until after we've used them."*

This is why I could never do Nanowrimo. Yes, yes, yes, I know you can just write a note to yourself to research later and go on with the writing, but my mind doesn't work that way. Before I spend a bunch of time writing something that could not have happened, I want to know that it could. Had scissors not been invented, I would have been tapping the backspace key.

Whatever possessed me to write historical fiction? I don't know. But I love the reality of the world I've created; from the creaking wood of the ship, the smell of the tarred lines, to the damp, rat-infested darkness of the hold. How would a sheltered, twenty-year-old woman deal with the hardship and terror of being aboard a Royal Navy ship during the Napoleonic wars, when all she had wanted was to visit her grandmother in South Carolina?

Back to editing.

*none of these are actually the following line


  1. My tune, sung by you. Thanks. I'm on my first novel, which, unaccountably, is historical fiction. I know nothing about history. Almost immediately I found myself scrambling to find out if a goat kid could fold up like a jack knife, as I imagined. Did they have jack knives in 1809? Yes. But a pen knife was more apt.

    Later, when I visited Old Sturbridge Village, I found myself badgering a nice laconic docent in the barn: COULD they have had goats? Did anyone keep goats? Is a goat remotely possible? ANSWER ME, MAN!

    Somehow I think you'd understand. I ain't NaNoing, either.

  2. Hi,

    Me not NaNoing either.

    re scissors: don't trust Wiki for information! It's often wrong. Take the Goerge Inn Glastonbury UK). According to Wiki it's a 15th Century structure when it fact it's 13th, plus back then it was called The Pilgrim, and became the George & Pilgrim much later.

    Who wouldn't write historical? History has so much to offer in excuses for a writer to write about shocking things frowned upon in today's society! ;)


  3. Oh, yes. I know the feeling well. What about staircases in 1805? Yes, I believe they were but in America they were on the outside of the houses in the south. Oh yes. Took me quite awhile to find that gem. (The more staircases inside, the more tax you paid.)

    Gotta love those historical facts.

  4. Murr,

    HA! I understand completely. I'm sure the crew of the USS Constitution wanted to have me walk the plank when I grilled them during a tour.


    So, we need more than one source, is that what you are saying? I think I got more than one on the scissors, but now you have me wondering. Dang.


    Oh my gosh, that is fabulous information. I hope you'll find a way to include it in your book. You always see the stairs on the outside, but I never knew why. Love it.

  5. Great post. Nanowrimoing might be fun for you some other year. 2222?
    I always thought exterior stairs were for fire safety. Or shenanigans. Interesting tax info.

  6. Dale,

    Interesting how the tax man's mind works, though, isn't it? And interesting what people would do, even 200 years ago, to avoid paying it.


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