Monday, May 19, 2014

Echoing the Voices from the PAST

Readers and their preferences have changed over the years. You might not realize it if you haven't picked up a novel that is 50 years old or older. Readers today want action and the characters' peril or dilemma right up front. No setting the stage for more than a couple of paragraphs in today's novels.

I suppose it's the television generation along with the computer generation that has no patience for several pages of prose. Tell us what the trouble is right from the start. (That doesn't mean we shouldn't read classic novels. We should. We just should try to copy the style.)

As a novelist I can accept that (I'm a reader as well, after all.) It's creating the voices from the past to use in my novels so that modern readers can relate to them that sometimes gives me some trouble. While it's true that people are people with similar wants, fears, and hopes throughout the ages, there are differences between the people of long ago and the readers today. For instance, several hundred years ago people rarely married for love. It was not something they even considered. Marriages were arranged for the benefit of the community or the country. Of course there were exceptions like Jacob of the Old Testament. He loved Rachel so much that when he was tricked into marrying her sister Leah, he worked for seven years so that he could have Rachel as well. But basically, in most cases, love was not a requirement for marriage in centuries past. But today's readers want love. They want a feisty female character who will not settle for anything less. So the historical novelist must keep both things in mind when weaving his/her story. Don't manipulate the past too much but still give modern readers what they want.

There are other things to consider. Can we weave a fictional story about someone who lived long ago so that it will make an interesting plot? Or must we keep to the actual facts and occurrences? The answer is yes, to both things. I think the novelist should be careful not to destroy someone's character beyond what is already considered to be factual. But if all we use is facts, we're not writing novels at all. There has to be a story.

So my question to you is: How much fact do you like to have in the historical novels you read? How much leeway are you willing to give the writer? Let's talk about it!

Cindy Thomson's newest historical novel, Annie's Stories, releases July 2014. The series began with Grace's Pictures, June 2013, published by Tyndale House. She is also the author Celtic Wisdom (Lion Hudson),Brigid of Ireland, A Historical Novel, (Monarch Books) and co-author of Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, (University of Nebraska Press.) 
She is also a mentor in the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Her interests include genealogy, history, and baseball. Sharing the legacies of faith left by those who went before us is her passion.
She has spoken to book clubs and other small groups and enjoys appearing at several large Irish festivals across the country. Visit her online at

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