I don’t want Conventions to be too similar to the Atlantic Lives novels (which I plan currently to return to after Conventions). It’s a huge challenge as a writer to try to head down a different path. But tackling new challenges is what authoring is all about: if you stay in your “comfort zone,” you’ll get stale.
For the first time I’m discovering the real challenge in being original is to be original again and again. We all have distinctive styles and I’m increasingly seeing what constitutes mine. We are inherently ourselves as writers, so it’s exceedingly difficult to avoid writing your previous books… over and over.
But this latest one has to be different in a variety of senses. First off, it will take place mostly between 1787-1795. That alone makes it a true “historical” effort – none of us living remember that time.
What we know – and any realistic novel of that time has to reflect these facts – is that those who lived then spent most of their time within twenty or so miles of home. They traveled less than we do because it took them much longer and was far more dangerous than what we face. When they did venture internationally, they were usually away for months, sometimes even years. They didn’t jet off for two weeks.
Letters took far longer to be exchanged. Or they were regularly lost (or even stolen) in transit and never delivered. Their information on each other could be months out of date or utterly lacking.
They lived often sicker and shorter lives in which, generally speaking, less “happened” to them over the courses of theirs than we experience in ours. Even if we think our lives are sooooo boring, chances are they are overall daily far more interesting than those lived by most – even the rich – in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Think about it. Aside from encountering “Mr. Darcy,” which was developed over an entire novel in itself, what did “Elizabeth Bennet” do all day over only a year or two? Likely it wasn’t the stuff of novels, which is why setting a novel in roughly that same period over eight years gathers up far more of their lives as lived and provides a time span that will see many more worthwhile “happenings” to hold our reading attention in our frenetic twenty-first century, in which sometimes it feels like “six months” is the equivalent of “twenty years.”
Speaking of “Mr Darcy” and “Miss Bennet,” I’m going more “English” in Conventions as well. There are more English characters – two of them major ones. There is also a great deal taking place on this side of the English Channel.
There are also English gentry. “War with France again? Oh, how dreadful.” Many loved their jaunts to Paris, so for many the regular conflicts with France were irritating. Eighteenth century wars were not “total war” in the sense we understand war. Wars, sigh, disrupted planned visits to the city for its spectacular social season, the opera and the theatre. (And for some men, chances to partake of certain of its, uh, decidedly more personal attractions.)
The more I dig researching the era, even minor gentry, like the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice, are all over the place. That makes sense because they were usually literate. So given they could write we know a great deal today about what their “class” were then up to.
I’d planned to stay away from even minor titles in fictional characters, but many of us in our own time seem to love reading about “the gentry.” So I gave in and transformed into gentry several major characters who initially weren’t. As I’m writing now, I’m finding that change has been a good thing, opening story possibilities I hadn’t anticipated, but which before would have been realistically closed off.
Have a great weekend, wherever you are in the world in our twenty-first century. 🙂