Wednesday, February 25, 2015

5 Things to Consider when Writing a Period Piece or Historical Fiction

So, people always say “write what you know”, so I started my career writing about superheroes in high school.  It evolved into supernatural beings in high school or young adults right out of high school, and so on.  So when I was inspired to write The Color of God’s Eyes, a period piece about a slave that develops the power to teleport, I faced some interesting challenges and learned some insightful things along the way that I wanted to share.

Know the Language.  It is fiction, so I feel like I have some liberty, but there were so many words that I’m accustomed to—phrases and slang—that weren’t appropriate for this time period.  I was constantly looking up the history of certain words that I was concerned about. It was a bit frustrating at times.  The biggest example would be the phrase “teleport” because that’s what Charlotte can do.  I fought over what I should call it, and settled on “blinking”.  Then there were other things like not using the term “makeup” and “boyfriend”.  There are so many common
phrases that we use today that we just don’t think about them not existing.

Know the culture.  My main character, Charlotte, is a huge reader.  She loves books, but I had to choose books that she could have gotten her hands on without using a time portal.  I wanted her to be exposed to some science fiction books (maybe something on teleportation) but it was just too early.  The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers were a given, mostly because Alexandre Dumas is a black like Charlotte, so she is inspired by him.  Charles Dickinson was also back then.  I also decided to make her in love with Jane Austin, which fits in well with her desire to be a “lady”, and her desire for a proper gentlemen.  Hopefully, my sisters appreciate that since they’ve seen Pride and Prejudice nearly one hundred times!

It was interesting learning about the different forms of entertainment.  It wasn’t easy finding out exactly how blacks sang, besides Negro spirituals, and finding out the dancing was not so easy.  I did learn that dancing was still hugely apart of the heritage, and plantation owners would even have their slaves compete and dance battle other plantations (that would be a weird Step Up movie).  Another interesting fact was that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one of the most popular books and plays during that time.  Charlotte was going to attend one of the performances, but I ultimately decided not to.  Maybe in the sequel.

Know the technology.  One of the most difficult things while working on this was probably deciding how long it would literally take people to travel from one location to another.  Trains were the fastest way of travel, but they weren’t everywhere yet.  Thankfully, the internet is an abundant source of knowledge and people put together things like travel maps from the 1800’s and mapquest pitched in as well.

Know the history.  I had to brush up on my history, and I’m really glad that I did.  Finding out about the gang environment in New York during the 1860’s was what attributed to Charlotte running away to New York.  Ultimately, I thought it would be awesome to see her as a superhero fighting against gangs in the Five Points and protecting those in harm’s way.  The dynamic between the immigrants, the Yankees, and the blacks that just got caught up in the middle of it was too intriguing to pass up on.  The Draft Riots will eventually play a huge role when I write my sequel.  If people thought Ferguson or the Harlem riots were bad, prepare to be blown away.

Know how much you’re going to change.  This is something I’m still debating, but the biggest question I had to ask myself was how much Charlotte and people like her were going to change history.  If certain individuals have the ability to blow things up with their mind, teleport, and fly, would it shift the world into an earlier industrial age?  Are major events going to be altered?  Would the Union succeed?  Would Charlotte save Abraham Lincoln?  There’s a lot to consider.  I think altering history has even greater challenges than fitting everything into the history like a secret past, because you have to know history enough to know what they would have done.  It’s like writing a fanfiction of an alternate reality, but still keeping them in character.

I can’t admit to what I decided to do though.  That would be too huge of a spoiler!


  1. Thanks for sharing such useful pointers, Christina! It's always a pleasure reading your material. <3

  2. Thanks. I'm trying to get back into the swing of writing blogs and putting up videos.