Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Grounded in the Here and Now

by Kristina Wright

I haven't read a lot of historical fiction and what I've written of it probably amounts to less than 1% of my total lifetime word count. I've certainly gone through stages of reading Regency romances, medieval "bodice-rippers," the Austen and Bronte classics, etc., but it's a stage that always fades and I return to contemporary fiction. 

While I can appreciate the research that goes into historical fiction, I have no desire to write it. I have written my share of college research papers and there is something particularly rewarding about research, the quest for information to satisfy a particular thesis. And yet, the feeling of success doesn't translate when I contemplate writing historically based fiction.

I suppose it has something to do with limits. Writing from a historical perspective requires an author to respect the conventions of the era-- and so often that meant women were limited in what they could do, say and be. Yes, yes, historical fiction doesn't have to be historically accurate-- I've read enough of it to know that-- but I find it annoying when an author plays fast and loose with the rules of sex, relationships and social conventions while towing the line with regard to everything from the vernacular to the underwear. 

To ignore the expectations of a woman's role in a particular era is to rewrite history and while I enjoy alternate history, I find myself rebelling against a fictional historical account that could never happen. (I should probably point out that I'm not a big science fiction, either. I don't think that's a coincidence.) I like my fiction grounded in reality and the "good old days" of history were rarely good for the women. And so, while I will lose myself in a book or film set in an era where I would've been considered little more than property, I don't find myself drawn to writing it.

There are some historical time frames, however, that don't appeal to me at all-- to read or to write. The Oscar nominated Lincoln was filmed practically in my backyard, yet I have no particular desire to see it. I know the story, I know the history, I know that many, many people died in the fight to overturn the status quo. I respect the history behind the film, but as far as finding it entertaining? No. Of course, I know I'm in the minority.

I think writing contemporary fiction appeals to me because it allows me to have a voice. I don't have to assume the voice of a woman with fewer choices and limited roles, I don't have to struggle against the constraints of an era to craft a story, I don't have to break the rules and create what amounts to an historical fantasy in order to tell the story I want to tell. I can still spend as much time researching a contemporary setting as an historical one-- I certainly don't know everything there is to know about living in the world I live now and often find myself writing something and wondering, "How does that work?" So, the research is still there, regardless of setting. But I feel less encumbered by the weight of the truth when I'm writing about the here and now.

Something I haven't yet written, but find incredibly appealing, is time travel. To take my modern sensibilities and drop them into a past era? Ah-- now that's historical fiction I might enjoy! Of course, it is still historical fantasy, right? But then, at least, I could break the rules without muddying the historical genre. 


  1. Hi, Kristina,

    I can definitely see your point, especially about the situation of women in the past. As for me, I enjoy reading about historical women who fought (deliberately or by chance) those limits you talk about. As Kathleen pointed out, there were many realities at any point in history. In some sense I don't want to read about the ordinary, majority experience in a historical period. I'd rather read about people and events that were in some sense extraordinary - though still believable for the place and time.

  2. Hi Kristina!

    I hope you get to write about time travel. I've done a few stories like that, and that is fun because you get to play with the notion of what might have been.



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