Saturday, July 13, 2013

Then and Now and What a Difference it Makes.

Patricia PacJac Carroll here once again. Whew! We have hit the dog days of summer. It is hot here in the Lone Star State.

Today, I'm going to talk about what historical writers deal with in making their stories authentic while balancing that with writing for readers of today.

History: Is often subjective.  In 1862, think of how a man from the north, one from the south, and a slave might describe what is happening. To one, they are putting down a rebellion. To the southerner, he's fighting for the cause. To the black man, he dreams of being set free. All accurate, but all a very different view of history in the making.

To make it harder - we have seen how our history books are being rewritten. The text book your grandchildren learn from is vastly different from the one's we learned from. Unfortunately, history is often rewritten by those with agendas. Facts are skewed to favor one's opinion. Good or bad, this can leave the writers of historical novels in a dilemma. Research is important but so are the credentials of the material used.

And then you have to match it with what the readers of this century believe to be true.  LOL  not always an easy task.

Geography: Just where are we?  Especially in the territory days of our country. I set my book, Liberty Belle, in Denver in 1859. But it is not Denver, Colorado, but Denver in the Kansas territory. In 1845, parts of what is now Colorado were included in the Republic of Texas.

Click here for an interesting link to show the many different territories of our growing nation.

Flora and Fauna:  While anyone living in Texas now knows all too well about fire ants and mesquite trees, it wasn't always so. Mesquite trees came north to Texas with the cattle from Mexico. Early Texas was free of the pesty trees. And Fire ants, the  nasty pests are relatively knew to the area coming in the 1970s and 80s. Now something nastier called crazy ants are making their way through Texas. So just because an area has certain trees, flowers, or animals and pests now, doesn't make it so throughout history. Writers must balance their knowledge with an area's history and then write it for the readers of today.

Technology: This is one area that probably has the most changes. Just think how many thrillers and murder mysteries would be changed just by the invention of the cell phone. Kids of today don't know anything else. I was watching Matllock and they had a roll of film and negatives. How many young people would even know what those are?

In history, as we learned on an earlier post, soda pop, came into being long before most of us would think. Electricity was used earlier than most of us would think too. It's important to get the technology right. When did the railroad come to a town, the telegraph? I purposely set my book, Liberty Belle, in 1859 Denver so that there was no train or telegraph.

Words: Lastly, we have the very words authors use to tell their stories. It's important to make sure a word was used during the time period the story takes place. I have a dictionary that lists when a word came into use. Click here for an online dictionary that will tell when a word came into use
I purposely chose truck because we had a discussion on the loop about the word. As you can see it was used as early as the 1600s. Yet the truck of that time will make a very different picture in the minds of the reader of today. While the usage of the word truck in a historical novel set in the 1800s is technically correct, without explanation, it will jolt the reader of today who will picture a Chevy Silverado and not a wagon.

Once, I was going to have my character take a nosedive off her horse. I checked and sure enough the word was related to airplanes which had not yet been invented in my story.

Other words surprise you. I was sure Santa Anna enjoyed fajitas on his fight against the Texans. BUT no, fajita did not become a word until 1985.  Surprise.

Hope you enjoyed the little lesson on the perils of writing authentic historicals and will appreciate the pains authors go to get it right and yet make their story understood by today's readers.

Yes, you can see my faithful pup enjoyed my blog ... well, maybe the heat got to him.  : )

If the summer is getting to you and you need an adventure, you can find my book - Liberty Belle on Amazon.  Just click here for an adventure.


  1. This was very interesting Patricia. Wonder where the big big Red ants came from. Boy have I got in their way at times. My husband was very allergic to them. I might not agree about those crazy ants tho. LOL Those Fire ants sting the minute they touch skin and hurt forever it seems. My oldest daughter still has scars on her leg where about 6 got her coming across my yard. We didn't have them in Ks. tho may be there by now. Every time we would come to the Houston area to visit our kids we would see their hills farther north. They could all leave as far as I care. We moved to Pasadena,Tx. in 1996 and live in a Mobil Park. I have fought them constantly ever sense. They are bad in floods too. They just get together in big balls and float in the water. They warn all of the time to watch for them. I have a friend who lives in West Texas and he can't get any trees to grow. They only have the Mesquite.trees. his farm is near Midland. I can see it would be quite time consuming to have to check all of the words. I have learned a lot from this site. Thanks.
    Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com
    Now the crazy ants are everywhere. But have never had one sting me.

    1. Those fire ants are just nasty. Someone said the crazy ants are worse. Joy : )

  2. Super post! I agree that sometimes the 'correct' use of a word throws off a reader because it now means something else. I find that reading books and writings of the period help so much and give an idea of 'common' usage. It just plain takes a lot of work and research and I don't think we would be writing these settings if we didn't enjoy the hunt!

  3. Thanks, Patricia, especially for the word usage link. Mine disappeared, so I was sure glad to get it again. It's fun to research, but it can lead to a lot of "rabbit trails" and take away from writing time. :)

  4. I can't imagine having to be that "strict" to everything in time for writing a book! I will stick to the reading part. ;) I can tell all of you, though, that I wouldn't know if you were using a word or object that wasn't invented yet. LOL (besides an obvious one)
    I just love a good story!!!
    Wow, fajita is that "new"??? Crazy.

    1. Susan, I think story rules and a good story is king. But it is interesting to get everything as right as you can. A challenge but worth it.

  5. What a precious pup you have! I bet he/she gets inside its fur coat! I've always wondered how much research really goes on for historical novels not only with fashion, but speech, persons, places, etc. It's truly mind-boggling! I think I'll always have to think in present day and/or times I have lived through! Thanks tor a great post!

    1. Thanks Kam,
      Jacs is my pups name. He is totally spoiled and thinks he owns us. On second thought, he probably does. : )

    2. My little chihuahua, Encore, owns and runs my life too!

  6. I went to see The Lone Ranger today. Disappointed. Apparently they didn't see any need to be authentic historically. Gee, what part of the Transcontinental Railroad not going through Texas did they not understand!

    Ok, my rant for the day. Gave the movie a thumbs down.

    1. A lot (not all) of the younger generation do not do good research if any at all; too much work and too tedious. I was a Lone Ranger watcher as a kid. Love the show but on your word I won't rush to the theater. Might wait for the DVD or instant video it.

  7. You made some very good points that I can relate to. Research and the content editing process has taught me a lot. Dealing with the issues you wrote about makes writing historical fiction interesting but a bit challenging. Yet I love it! I noticed you said history books were being rewritten often by those with an agenda. That being true to a degree I would add that they were originally written by people with agendas. Truths were omitted and facts changed and tilted to fit whatever agenda they had at that time. History books have always had a subjective spin of someone's political and cultural POV and purpose. Just because it was written first does not mean it was true or accurate in the telling. There is a real need for correction of lies and omissions in historical accounts of many events and even cultural depictions. Yet there can be largely conflicting historical depictions of the same event leaving one to wonder. The absolute truth of a matter is something we may never know. What really happened and why could be anywhere on the spectrum of its various historical accounts at this point. So as a writer I try to show the history from all its angles. I want to get a complete picture and let the reader decide what they think. Put it out there and trust that my readers are intelligent enough to figure it out and hopefully without too much bias. Personally I like to research the old and rewritten history if necessary and I'll idle somewhere in the middle throwing in a little of each. That's usually safest.Unfortunately most people tend to lean toward whatever POV that supports their beliefs. That's just human nature and I get that as a person and a writer. I am currently writing a novel involving the Alamo and its infamous battle. Talk about varied So it will be interesting to see how I can incorporate all those into one novel about God's divine hand, romance, the political and cultural mindset of ALL the people back then. This is going to be a daunting but sweet challenge.

  8. Good points Marlene. I think it is good to show the different sides. Looking forward to reading your book about the Alamo.