1. The Elder One

    The Elder One Member

    Sep 12, 2016
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    Pros and cons of a historical setting?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by The Elder One, Oct 3, 2016.

    I have decided to set my novel in the 60s, but the research, fact checking and some other things are so complicated I sometimes find myself thinking if I should just have it take place in our time to make the writing easier and be able to have more details on things.

    It's an espionage thriller, I'm loving writing it, but I find myself wondering "did this exist back then? what was this place like that year? did this street the scene takes place exist back then?" I am, many times forced to focus less on detail because of the setting.

    What do you think about that? Should I rewrite it to modern day or continue? Anyone with similar experiences?
  2. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

    Sep 30, 2015
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    Did mine in the 1st century... Rome, India, China, Bactria. Lot of research but Wikipedia is a wonderful resource. If you want to know if something was in use, look it up and find out when it was invented, came into common use.

    Also watch some sixties sitcoms, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, etc., to get a feel for how the era looked, sounded, felt. Just came back from my 50th HS reunion (Class of 66) so real trip down memory lane for me.

    FYI, we did have in door plumbing in the 60s!
    Shadowfax likes this.
  3. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

    Jul 5, 2010
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    California, US
    I think you should employ a cost/benefit analysis. It is impractical to exhaustively research every single detail of the work, no matter how minor, and that level of research is not necessary.

    Did street X exist in 1960? Unless that street is pivotal, the vast majority of your readers are never going to know or care whether it existed in 1960. If it is just mentioned in passing, then I wouldn't worry too much about it. That is to say, I'd probably take a quick look online to see if I could find out whether it was there, and if I can't find anything I'd either go with it (even the readers who bother to fact check you on that, which number probably approaches zero, won't be able to readily find the information) or move the scene to another street that I could verify. But if it's not an important detail I wouldn't waste a lot of time wringing my hands over it. I'd just pick an approach and go with it.

    Of course, significant details, and those details likely to be generally known or easily discovered, should be accurate.
    tonguetied likes this.
  4. FrankieWuh

    FrankieWuh Active Member

    Feb 6, 2014
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    Deepest Darkest UK
    Historical books can be moider for any writer. Not only for the historical accuracies such as settings, details, accents, dialects, but everything really you need to invoke that part of history. The further away you are, the easier I guess it gets in some respects as unless someone has recently built a time-machine, it's pretty hard to go back, to say Roman times, and say 'well, hey, they didn't talk like that,' or 'they wouldn't have done that in a million years!' But then the whole historical setting, artefacts, terms, politics etc. just mount up to smother the writer (and the reader - don't forget the poor reader having to wade through the 'Tom Clancy' equivalent of a historical lecture).

    The setting you've embarked upon is tricky in the sense it's close enough for people to have a memory: a feel, smell, sound and sight of it, people who remember those little details and will just lurve to remind you about any mistakes you've made. While the 60's are a fave of mine, I'd never consider setting a story in that era. There are plenty successful authors who have written fiction based around the 1960's (Stephen King anyone?) who have since sworn blind they'll not do it again for precisely these reasons. There's more traps in writing near-historical fiction than in the whole of Sound of Music.

    I'm not saying you should't try, but be warned, it aint easy. And if you are new to this, you might soon get over your head and bury yourself in the research, and spend less time doing what matters: writing the story.
    Kara Gatsby and tonguetied like this.
  5. Link the Writer

    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

    Sep 24, 2009
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    Alabama, USA
    You're stuck in whatever historical setting you choose. For example, Amos Garnier is in my Colonial Mysteries. That means he can't hop onto the table and pull an Elvis impersonation by singing into his cane. Emily, another major character, won't be going to the beach in nothing but a bikini because not only did bikinis not exist back in the Colonial days; it would'be been unspeakably beyond the pale if she even so much as flashed an ankle. To put it simply, her showing Amos her ankle in Colonial times would be like, in our time, her exposing her bare breasts to him, had him touch them...in public. In full view of everyone. Then taking a picture of it and posting it on Instagram.

    Sexual stuff aside, you have to take into account the cultural mindset. Amos, being blind, would be illiterate because Braille wasn't invented yet. No one would think him as anything more than a useful laborer -- and even then, some might say his parents should've simply left him to die on the streets because of his blindness. Disabilities were seen as a societal shame back then; the idea that they could actually lead productive normal lives like everyone else, just with a few accommodations was unheard of. Of course, Emily would get to look forward to a lifetime of being the pretty woman in the house who occasionally pops out a baby or two. And, obviously, blacks were...well...slaves.

    That is my input for this thread.
    tonguetied likes this.

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