Categories: Writing Advice

How to use Authentic Historical Detail to Trigger Emotions and Memories in Your Reader

From Ruth Harris on Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Writers of historical fiction, whether Regency, Middle Ages, Victorian use the markers of the era—clothes, furniture, manners, leaders, resisters, war, peace, prosperity, recession—to create character, conflict, and plot.

Writers of fiction set in more contemporary times can use these powerful assets to add depth and texture as well. Adding authentic historical detail to novels will trigger a rich web of personal memories and associations. Those will engage readers in an emotionally profound way.

From the dot-com bubble of 2000 to the housing crisis of 2007, from passing fads to mega trends, the social and cultural settings of a story give us ways to draw readers into our stories. From fidget spinners, Beanie Babies and hula hoops to Madonna, Madoff and Zuckerberg, each specific detail evokes personal memories.

. . . .

  • The buttoned-down Eisenhower Fifties, the Man In The Grey Flannel Suit and “Togetherness” evoke memories a past era
  • The stylish Kennedy Sixties was note for Twiggy, the Cuban missile crisis—and the assassination of the president
  • The gloomy Carter Seventies brought recession and the “me” decade
  • The glitzy Reagan Eighties meant a rebounding economy and “Reagan Red”

. . . .

As you invoke relevant cultural, political and social trends in your stories, you will draw your reader into recognizable and relatable settings against which your characters’ problems and pleasures can play out.

The days when Nice Girls Didn’t morphed gradually but inevitably into the present when Nice Girls Do—and sometimes even post the video.

The years when girls who got inconveniently pregnant were sent away in shame has become today’s Single Mom.

. . . .

We’re not writing non-fiction. I’m not talking about giving your reader a history lesson—that’s Doris Kearns Goodwin’s job—but you do want to give your characters a recognizable world in which to live.

But your characters can—and should be—shaped by the attitudes of whatever setting and period you choose to write about.

Link to the rest at Ruth Harris on Anne R. Allen’s Blog

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