Do you write Historical Fiction? Writing historically accurate fiction starts with RESEARCH.
Well, duh! I know that.
Most writers will take for granted a great many aspects that can lend more credence to their works, as well as a better experience of the story they want to put forward to readers. Additionally, if you want to be considered historically accurate, you must behave as a historian–do your due diligence. Can it always be done? Some things might slip past you. No human is perfect. Try your best. This series is going to help by presenting articles of interest from around the internet and get you started on the research necessary to complete an amazing manuscript.
Let’s Talk Drinks
At some point, your character is going to sip something. Whatever that liquid is will depend upon several factors: race, class, gender and location to start and personality to round it out. If you have a cad of a street man who likes to put on airs, his drink of choice is not going to be the town’s stout. He’ll like something a bit more pretentious. Women were expected to imbibe more peaceful spirits–if she’s not a tart. The image your character wishes to portray will often contrast the means and social expectations for them. Once you have a clear image of who you’re going to be deciding a drink of choice for…what time period are we talking? It matters a great deal.
Much like etymology should be checked on the words you use in dialogue (I will speak on this in later entries), be sure that the objects you fill your setting with are period appropriate–down to the bottle and label. Jack Daniels today doesn’t look the same as Jack Daniels from when the distillery started. Tennessee is a newer entity in the gran scheme of history. Most drinks are regional. Playing it safe is weak research. Everyone had port–stop talking about port. And, need I go on about Rum? Put down the Pirates of the Caribbean DVDs. Boring. Port isn’t the only Port in town. There is more to life than fermented sugar cane. Let’s see some effort!
On the other hand, you might be penning a scene between two characters where one has chosen the drinks that shall be had, so you’ve gone through the above steps and picked something other than port or rum. You’ve vetted it as period appropriate. You have even found an image of what a bottle of the stuff looks like, so you can describe it if needed. Excellent!
Here is a sample of how that might play out…
Dante presented a squat green bottle. The glass stamp on it turned Ishmael’s stomach. He’d just gotten in from a long voyage out of Lorient, the hold full of the cheap swill these American Colonists pretended was good wine simply because it was French. Dante did put on airs, from his tricorn plume to his kidskin buckle shoes. Even the silks he wore were too bright–too new. Ishamel’s stomach turned again, knowing where that money was made–the trade of flesh, packing them in stacks, shoulder to shoulder, and crossing the Atlantic through storm or hot calm to sell them on the block for avarice sake. Ishmael accepted the glass and with some effort swallowed the vinegar down. Dante could make trouble for him if he didn’t make nice.
I had a comment on my first post in this series, that this was all well and good, but they didn’t want to do exposition. They completely misunderstood the purpose and form. If you write careless and frivolous prose, then this series is not for you as a writer. If you’re an author who cares about the historic details and writes quality prose with great care–I’m here to help guide you to that. What you have above gives you a ton of information without beating the reader over the head. It’s not exposition. It’s showing you a story about Dante and Ishmael’s understanding of the man.
Dante is a newly wealthy man from his success in the slave trade. Ishmael finds Dante’s tastes grotesque and cheap. He drinks the wine despite himself because they have a deal to make and he doesn’t want to offend him. The paragraph is both intriguing and important in character development. That little wine bottle also tells the year: 1700s–early/mid. Here’s another article on wine. It is possible to write a ton of information into a short paragraph with the proper skill. That’s your job as a writer, and one you can’t shy away from fearing that your work will no longer delight and entertain, burdened by historical knowledge. People pick up historical works for the immersion into history. Write for the audience you intend to read the book–and ‘underwrite’ for those in the audience who will want deeper meanings and deeper experiences. Those are works worth writing and being read.
In 1784, the doctor Benjamin Rush described alcohol as a threat to morality—and a danger to the nascent republic.
Read about Early American History and Drink: From the National Archives: The American Founders’ Views on Alcohol Consumption – The Atlantic
Have a topic you’d like discussed on writing historical fiction? Leave me a message and I will do my best to get to it.