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Historical Fiction Workshop - Week 3, Writing

Journal Entry: Mon Aug 18, 2014, 2:48 PM

Alright Historians, time to actually start writing your story.


This time, your assignment first: Start your working draft. I’d like to see people get it half done by the end of the week. I assume that halfway through your stories you will start to find more things you need to research, so here is what I want you to do:

:bulletblue: Make a new scrap deviation, this will be your rough draft. Start writing it and link it back here so I know when to look at it. You can link even if you only have an opening paragraph and continue to add to it, alerting us as many times as you like during the week.

:bulletblack: In your previous scrap that has your outline and your sources, start taking note of the things you come up against while writing your story. What didn’t you research yet that you – oops – just figured out that you needed? Write it down. This list will be integral to week 4’s lesson.

I don’t think you’ll get the whole story done in one week, but please do as much as you can. You WILL have more time to write later, I promise, but still, the more working draft you have, the more you have to work with.


And now on to the lesson. It’s a doozy this time guys. But it’s good.


Your lesson this week is multi-pronged. We’ll be going over a couple things to avoid while writing your story. They are, in no particular order:

:bulletblue: How to fit in historical fact without infodumping.

:bulletblack: Using slang and period English appropriately in your story.

:bulletblue: Avoiding anachronisms.

:bulletblack: Dealing with vulgarity.


First comes first. Infodumping and how not to do it:

Imagine that VFreie and I are sitting around having a conversation.

doughboycafe : Wow, VFreie, it’s so nice having the internet, on which I can check my email. Look, I received an email from my mom, who lives thousands of miles away from me, but it came here in an instant!

VFreie : Yeah, the internet is truly great. I can remember fifteen years ago when we didn’t really have it. Correspondence was so slow, then!

doughboycafe : It sure was. And wow, I can even see pictures of our cats, look at this attachment!

You’re probably all laughing now at the absolute absurdity of this conversation. But this is what a terrible info dump looks like in histfic too, and I swear to you all, I read dialogues and narratives this awkward and stupid all the time. Here’s why this doesn’t work:

    1.       This conversation could be had in about 2 lines.

    2.       There is no reason for VFreie and I to tell each other information that is evident. We both know what they internet is. We are chatting over it as we talk to each other, and we both lived through its advent and history, so why on earth would we need to explain it to each other?

    3.       We also don’t need to give each other our subjective opinions on something that is so neutral and commonplace that it doesn’t warrant it.

A better form of this conversation:

doughboycafe : Lol, I just got an email from my mom, but I think it’s like 2am her time. What is she even doing up?

VFreie : Sending you pictures of cats?

doughboycafe : Yep. Pictures of the cats.*

(for the record my mother does occasionally send me pictures of the cats but it’s usually before 2am her time.)

In the second version, we still get the info we needed but without all the info we don’t need. Your audience isn’t stupid. They can probably figure out a few things from context, and if they can’t, you’ll figure that out in a beta readthrough.

The best way to transmit historical setting and information is through natural speech. Things will get mentioned, or, you can talk in narrative about personal attachments someone has to a place, an action, an event, an idea, to explain that that (thing) exists. But there’s no need to over explain. Remember my stupid first dialogue and how utterly silly it sounds when writing your first draft.


Thoughts from VFreie :

The age you live in shows through the things you use, the physical sensations you experience (think that inebriating smell at the gas station), the way you speak, the manners you interact with other people and your environment, etc. You can make the setting work the same way in historical fiction: let it come alive through concrete details. Let it speak for itself.

Beside that, you’re going to need a lot of self-restraint. Why? Because during your research phase and well beyond the official end of it, you’ll learn a lot of really cool things, an you’ll want to tell them all... even though you don’t always need them. You have to resist that temptation to show off your newfound awesome knowledge. I know it’s hard. But you’re here to write fiction, not an essay for school; your historical knowledge should seep from your plot and your characters. Basically, it’s an advanced version of the good ol’ “show, don’t tell” rule.

In short, use the the As You Know, Bob trope sparingly. Very sparingly. As little as possible. Possibly never.


From doughboycafe :

And this bears repeating again guys. History is the backdrop, it is NOT your story. Don’t fall into the trap of letting the historical events do your work for you. Remember the questions we asked you in week one. Remember that your narrative has to be about your character’s internal or external change, not the events happening on the background chronology.


Using Slang and Period English

Here’s the thing about slang, guys; much like speaking a foreign language, if you don’t speak it well, if you haven’t spent years reading scads of novels and primary sources written in your period of choice, use it sparingly. If at all. Yes, you will need to use slang words if the modern English word is anachronistic because it wasn’t invented yet, but slang is not a condiment. You shouldn’t pepper it all over your story just for good measure. It needs to be in there smoothly, consistently, and naturally, otherwise it tastes like scrambled eggs that have small clumps of black pepper hidden inside like uncomfortably little spice bombs. Bite into one of those babies and it’s gonna be awkward.

The same goes for period English. If you haven’t spent enough time studying it to be completely comfortable with it, if you’re not aware of how it syntactically differs from modern English, you’re going to end up mixing the two and it’s going to turn out stilted, bad, or worse – laughable. It’s ok to write much older settings in modern English. You speak modern English. That doesn’t mean use anachronistic word choices, but it does mean modern language structure is ok. Normally you can just make it sound a little more “formal” and it works out.

Avoiding Anachronisms

Two cents from VFreie :

Anachronisms are tricky punks. Really tricky. Let me say it straight from the beginning: you are going to always, always get something not perfectly right. This is NOT an excuse to slack off with your research and your attempts at staying true to history, but remember that eternal incompleteness is your fate. D:

That said, you’re going to face two macro-types of anachronism:

- factual details; they can be painfully hard to get right, and make you trip over ridiculously small things, such as trifle everyday life matters – for example: was it a common custom for people in this place and this era and this social class to eat with fork and knife? And don’t even get me started on trying to track down exactly what people ate throughout history;

- mentality problems; now, this is a wider scope flaw that often ties with the problem of avoiding vulgarity and politically not correct stuff. It’s very easy to give in to gut instinct and lend your characters views and manners of thinking, speaking and behaving that are much too advanced for their era, and yes, by “advanced” I mean “blatantly 21st century Westernised”. Some of us may find it hard to sit in the head of, let’s say, an 18th gentleman who genuinely believes his beloved wife is an inferior piece of property, slave trade is just as acceptable as cattle trade, and sleeping with a 13 years old prostitute is the perfect thing to do on a night out – and still make this guy a positive character, even if not all his views on these topics are eventually changed towards our modern notions of right and wrong. I’m not saying you should roll in the muck and make your character’s world view entirely, uncritically yours; but, showing something does not equal agreeing with it. You have to suck it up, and pay very close attention to how you frame that nasty stuff.

Valid for both points: try to read up some cultural history, history of ideas and history of mentalities about the eras you’re researching. Aside from bits of shine on material culture, they can be of great help to get your characters’ mindset right. An example: you’d think there were no such things as books on the history of domestic life in Europe throughout the modern age, right? Oh, but there is..


Dealing with Vulgarity

From doughboycafe

And this dovetails nicely into dealing with vulgarity. First off let me say: guys, most of your stories are dealing with heavy concepts. Stay on them. Sure, use dA’s maturity filter if you have to, but stay on them. Don’t back off of scary, awful things. It is your duty, your moral obligation as a writer and as historian to tell people what really happened way back when. If you don’t, if you sugarcoat something or water it down, you’re denying those that actually lived through those awful things their chance at recognition for their pain, endurance, and courage.

If in the course of writing your story someone complains at you for telling it like it is, come and tell me immediately. I don’t want any one of my participants getting blasted for telling the truth, I will not take that kind of crap.

So, about vulgarity. The simplest way to put this: Vulgarity happens in history. Soldiers swear. Ugly, nasty things can happen between people. Depending on your time period, racism is probably present. Rape might be present. Injustice, false execution, crime, murder, religious war, it’s all in there. Don’t shy away from these things because they are horrible to us now.

The biggest issues I see with people who do histfic is that they feel ashamed to research or show what really may have happened in a given time period. There are a lot of very terrible subjects that become intrinsically tied to certain time periods, and sometimes it’s important to know they are there, even if you don’t care to show them.

Remember that throughout most of history: Soldiers went to brothels. Prostitutes had abortions. In most of history, rape was common. There was segregation of all kinds of people for their skin color. Until more or less the 20th century, homosexuality was a crime that warranted imprisonment and sometimes death, especially in a military setting. And during tough times, like famines, wars, occupations, or economic depressions, people suffered psychological breaks, and until relatively recently, those things were simply not recognized, let alone treated. It’s really hard to deal with, even harder to fight the urge to romanticize it. But you have to, because you really shouldn’t ignore it, no matter how frightening or politically charged it might get.

If we’re not telling the truth, then we’re just lying to ourselves, and that doesn’t get anybody anywhere.

But on the flipside, do not make vulgar what was not vulgar at the time; this means, for example, if you are writing a war, do not demonize the enemy using hindsight. I can tell you now from the amount I’ve read that there were no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in a trench, just guys, all hungry, all tired, all surviving. Good people do bad things, or things that are acceptable for their times.

Be true, be true, be true. That’s the mantra to repeat.


Alright guys, that was a huge lesson, but hopefully it’s enough food for thought right now. Let’s get to writing.

Skin by SimplySilent
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doughboycafe Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2014  Professional Writer
Ok, great! I skimmed it and the AC - will do a better read through soon. But - re: the inaccuracy problem you were talking about before, did you fix it? Is it not in this part? Or do you still need help on it?
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I'm sure it's inaccurate still, but the specific thing I mentioned is gone. Whilst it was a big mistake to make history-wise, it was only a couple of insignificant mentions that the story doesn't need at all, so easy to fix. It was the trigger that brought on my moment of madness, but that was because I'd already been doubting the way I'd written it. I know that's normal with a first draft - blame my illness!

To prove I'm over it, I'll tell you what the mistake was. It was a couple of mentions of Caratacus, whom the Iceni as likely as not knew nothing about or wouldn't remember, and him being killed by the Romans, which never happened.
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2014  Professional Writer
haha, ok, well, if it's gone, then no worries! Damn see? that was a very easy fix!
Lonaargh Featured By Owner Sep 1, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I'm sad to say that because of some personal shitstorm (not literally of course) I'll have to stop with the workshop :(
Sorry! Good luck everybody!
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014  Professional Writer
Very sorry to hear it. We're just getting back on track now so if your shit storm is over, come on back! If not, it was good to have you while you could be here.
lovelorey Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2014  Hobbyist Writer

It's not much, but it's a start! I'm going to try and run through and give everyone's a good read tomorrow (later today lol)! Excited to be catching up (and writing!)
farmowls-icewolf-inc Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist

I think I definitely need advice on this. Maybe I'm being kind of shy about vulgarity since I've only started, and I have never really written this type of thing in depth before. I haven't gotten much down, but I feel like I'm missing a couple of important things already. I'm also kind of a worrywart about nearly everything, which kind of builds on to this, but I'll definitely keep trying to add on to and improve this.
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Aug 31, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
HistFic Workshop Ex. 3Still to research:
:bulletblack: Roman behaviour e.g. Romanisation of Britain, integration/marriage, basic things such as clothing and weapons.
:bulletblack: Relationships between Iceni and other tribes/rest of Europe (I understand there were strong links due to their east coast location).
To research:
:bulletblack: Archaeological evidence of life in the Iceni tribe e.g. housing, farming (I understand the landscape was marshy), trade, clothing (can look more generally at Iron Age Celts if specific details are missing).
:bulletblack: The relationship between the occupying Romans and the tribe; how much Prasutagus’s rule was influenced by the Romans; details of/relation to quashed rebellion in AD 47.
:bulletblack: How the Romans treated and governed conquered/defeated tribes; language and communication; likely fates for rebels.
:bulletblack: Military on both sides; strategy; weapons; archaeological evidence of actual activity (as well as the Roman spin).
:bulletblack: It would
 and HistFic Draft 1My earliest memories are of the Roman invasion.  Many men and some women took up their farming tools, their axes and whatever else the smiths had made, and marched west to join Caraticu in the mountains.  They went little by little, and at least once, a man came to our house to ask my father to go with them.
‘We can drive out the Romans if we all come together,’ he said.
‘I will not leave my wife and daughters,’ my father said, ‘in case I should not return.’
The farmer looked at me.  I was behind my father, with my arms wrapped around his knees.  When my father mentioned us, the farmer looked down at me.  I peeped out at him and looked back.  I did not understand anything that was being talked about.  Perhaps it was my ignorance and innocence that made the farmer think for a moment.  My mother was a little way behind me, suckling my sister Cata by the light of the fire.
‘Do you want them to be ruled by th
Classically-DePunk Featured By Owner Edited Aug 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist At the eleventh hour, but here it is!
ArthurTheBraveOne Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Hooray, properly on time this time!
Prose: [Link]
Research: [Link]

There's a good chance I'll probably add a bit more tomorrow :)
adventwinter Featured By Owner Aug 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow. I'm not a part of this, but I feel like I've learned a lot from reading this. Thank you and good luck to all involved~
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Sep 21, 2014  Professional Writer
Glad it could help!
neurotype Featured By Owner Aug 26, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2014  Professional Writer
neurotype Featured By Owner Sep 29, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Lonaargh Featured By Owner Aug 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer

And typing merrily along :)
ThornyEnglishRose Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
It's a bit more than an opening paragraph, but only the beginning of the story:

I don't intend to make you look at it constantly, but at this early stage I find myself in need of reassurance and/or guidance! Pretty much everything is in the comments, I think, but I've probably missed something important. My brain is full of the history of land and farming in Diss, so that's my excuse. :P
NeoPrankster Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Neat project!
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Aug 18, 2014  Professional Writer
Well thanks!
NeoPrankster Featured By Owner Aug 19, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
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