One of the trickiest elements of writing historical fiction isn’t attempting to apply research toward perfecting those nuances which transport the reader back in time, but rather to get into the head of characters who lived in the past–perhaps even hundreds, or dare I venture, thousands of years ago.
I find the best way to further acclimate myself with historical fiction characters is to conduct activities with limitations as close to those they experienced as I can safely replicate.
Among my favorite is to sit down and write by hand, with only candle light, with a quill or dip pen and a pot of ink. This isn’t an excuse to practice calligraphy, because I’ve always been horrid at it. But rather, sitting at my mid-19th century writing desk (complete with velvet padding), I am able to appreciate what it must have been like to have to conduct all business through written letters. How often do we write by hand anymore? It takes a lot longer and after a half hour of constantly adjusting the pressure of the pen or quill, my hand was tired.
I feel like some kind of Wall-E post-apocalyptic prisoner saying that, so accustomed to a keyboard and screen that I’ve nearly forgotten what it meant to really sit down and write.
Five additional helpful activities include:
1. Walking to the nearest market, buying food and carrying it home. This offers an added benefit of exercise. Be careful of cars though, and if it’s summer, don’t buy anything cold unless you literally live down the street.
2. Listen to music popular in the day of your character(s). Added benefit of broadening your musical horizons. Beware: you might fall in love with what you’re hearing.
3. Bake bread. Without a bread machine. Added benefit: delicious, warm, fresh baked bread right from your own kitchen.
4. Grow something in your garden. Don’t have a garden? Even better! Make one first. Double added benefit: healthy veggies and exercise.
5. Visit a living museum. Being a resident of New England, my two faves are Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea, and Sturbridge Village. But such places are more common than you think! You probably have one within an hour of your home. Added benefit: you’ll learn things. Lots of things.
In what ways do you get into your character’s thoughts?