Sunday, August 23, 2015

Writing History, Whenever It May Be

I've always been an ardent student of history. It fascinates me to learn about how people lived in the past, how they managed to cook their food or make their clothing. Most of my research ended up focusing on the World War II era, and it wasn't until this last winter that I shifted to my current topic of study - the American West.

I've been asked a few times how I managed to make that shift so quickly and be able to write convincingly in such a different era. My first answer was, "I'm not sure." However, after I thought about it so I could give a more intelligent reply, I've come up with an explanation, and I hope it's helpful to you as well.

People are people, whether you're writing about cavemen or explorers in space - we all have the same basic wants, needs, and dreams. Really, what it comes down to in writing historical is looking at those wants, needs, and dreams through the lens of that character's time. For instance, I think it's safe to say that girls/women through all eras like having something new to wear. A Western girl would fantasize about going down to the general store and choosing out new fabric, while a contemporary girl would fantasize about going to the mall. It's the same desire - they would just go about it differently because of their different circumstances.

The same goes for making dinner - the goal is always the same (make food) whether you're cooking it over a fire on a spit, throwing it in the microwave, or hitting the "replicate" button on your spaceship. The feelings of hunger are the same, the desire to eat quickly is the same, the feelings of grumpiness are the same no matter what era you're writing. People are the same no matter what their historical surroundings.

If you're contemplating writing historical, I suggest that you start with the characters first and determine their hopes and dreams and objectives, and then decide how to create that framework around them. The funny thing is, this is how I recommend starting every book, historical or not. When you start with the characters and their emotions, you're starting in the perfect spot every time. Then just put them in dresses, take away their cell phones, and boom! You're done!  Well, okay, it's not that easy - but it's also not as hard as you might think.

Writing Prompt: Take the following scene and write it three ways: cavemen, American West, and the 1940s. A man comes home and asks his wife what's for dinner. If you like, leave your results in the comments.

Amelia C. Adams has lived many lifetimes, and is currently enjoying this stretch as the author of sweet and clean Western romance. Her new bestselling series is called Kansas Crossroads. A New Beginning (book one), A Free Heart (book two) The Dark and the Dawn (book three), A Clean Slate (book four), A Clear Hope (book five), and The Whisper of Morning (book six). You can learn more about her and her books on her website.  


  1. I agree with you completely. Character first, then add the details. I do like your explanation. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  2. Enjoyed your post, Amelia. While I am quick to say that I hate reading a contemporary character with cont emporary values and expectations in a historical setting -- it was a different culture with different expectations in previous eras -- human nature is human nature.

    Cavewoman: What did you bring me to throw on the fire?

    Western gal: I'll put the pot of chicken and dumplings on the table now. As soon as these biscuits come out of the oven, we'll eat. Please wash up while I call the children.

    1940s woman: The pot roast is on the table, dear. Children, kiss your daddy and then it's time to wash your hands for dinner.

    Modern mom: Whatever you can afford at the fast food of your choice. Come on, kids, time to get in the car.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

  3. Thanks, Doris!

    Robyn, your responses are great - not only do they show different cooking methods, but each woman's attitude toward the meal preparation and her relationship with her husband as well, all things that shift and change throughout eras of time.

  4. This sounds like fun. I'll take it from the man's point of view--

    Caveman: (Rubbing his tummy) "Ugh! Food."

    Wild West: (Jumping off his horse and tying it to the rail in front of the homestead.) "Got any viddles on the spit?"

    1940s: (Coming in from fixing the car, covered with grease & sweat and sees the food & dishes on the table--obtained from the mason jars in the pantry and the garden. It's served on china.) "Guess I better clean up," he says, wiping his hands on an old rag.

    Isn't it fun to get into the character's heads and see things from that time period?