Ah-Ha Moment: Researching a Period Piece
There are lots of ways to conduct research for a historical piece and, as a writer, you need every single one of them in your bag of tricks. Did I just say tricks? Yes, I did. Part of crafting writing is knowing that you are creating what is tantamount to illusion...in the end, all writing comes down to verisimilitude. If it didn’t, it’d be the literary equivalent of a home movie (notice I didn’t say reality TV show because those are scripted, too). So every bit of what you write: setting, plot, dialogue is all geared toward creating the illusion that your story is real when, in fact, everyone knows it isn’t.
But how do you take that mantra and transport it back to the 10th century? Or the 19th century or whenever your story and your characters need to be alive and walking around and acting? Naturally you have to read books from the period and about the subject; check in with Google; and consult maps. It’s also a good idea to read fiction (even if it’s not related to your subject) that was written at the time and about the time you’ve chosen, and to watch films about the era or from the era (if you’re writing about early 20th century on). All very good—and very necessary--so you can soak up that atmosphere and convey it to your readers.
But what’s the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re researching and writing about the past? My ah-ha moment came when I realized it’s exactly the same as it is for any writing. Cf. paragraph 1—Yep, good old verisimilitude. You want just enough “history” floating and weaving through your story to convey the time period—not to slavishly copy it. Your characters will have the same feelings and desires and motives as folks upright and walking right now in 2013. In other words, you will actually be writing a modern story—that just happens to occur back in the good old days.
About the Author:
Lisa Mannetti’s debut novel, The Gentling Box, garnered a Bram Stoker Award and she has since been twice-nominated for the award in both the short and long fiction categories: (“1925: A Fall River Halloween” and Dissolution). Her story, “Everybody Wins,” was made into a short film by director Paul Leyden starring Malin Ackerman and released under the title Bye-Bye Sally. Recent short stories include, “Corruption,” in Nightscapes Volume 1 (August 2013) and “The Hunger Artist” in Zippered Flesh II (February 2013).
She has also authored The New Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (second edition to be published by Smart Rhino early 2014), two companion novellas in Deathwatch, (new edition Nightscape Press, December 2013), a macabre gag book, 51 Fiendish Ways to Leave your Lover, (Bad Moon Books, Feb 2010) as well as non-fiction books, and numerous articles and short stories in newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Forthcoming works include additional short stories and a novella about Houdini, The Box Jumper. She is currently working on a paranormal novel, Spy Glass Hill.
Lisa lives in New York.
Visit her author website: www.lisamannetti.com
Visit her virtual haunted house: www.thechanceryhouse.com