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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: historical fiction

Money is fundamental to our lives but taboo in polite conversation…much like sex. But just like sex, money is one of the main drivers of human behavior. And what do we pattern our characters’ behavior on? Yup. Exactly.

Now, of course, I would never be so crass as to suggest that any of our protagonists are motivated by such indelicate—even sordid—things such as money or sex (*rolls eyes, but soldiers on*). Protagonists are always ultimately convinced to act solely from altruism, and villains are the ones who simply must be avaricious and lustful. (*accidentally rolls eyes so hard I fall over backward*)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Except, sex and money are just shorthand proxies for deeper, more complex psychological stimuli. In this case, ‘sex’ as a motivator encompasses everything from our biological impetus to procreate—because the world by now totally needs more humans *eye roll…OW!*—to the pleasures and comforts of companionship.

‘Money’ is the stand-in for scarcity, acquisition, and competition for what we need to survive, from basics like food and water to the finer points of existential fulfillment.

And, while plotting is totally Kristen’s wheelhouse, it’s safe to say all plots boil down to one basic premise: a character wants/needs/lacks something and must overcome obstacles to obtain it.

No matter what genre we write, character motivation matters. Therefore, money matters.

Haves, Have-Nots, and Have-a-Snickers-Cait-You’re-not-Yourself

I am not the kindest editor, and I’m a downright PMS-ridden-harpy when it comes to historical anachronisms.

Wanna trigger the transformation? Just drop any of the following little gems into prose:

Characters using generic ‘gold coins’ to pay for bread and cheese (a whole other rage topic for another time);

WORSE, using those same coins across international borders (because universal currency, exchange rates, and value of goods was so standard and easily handled. Genghis Khan’s forced standardization of currency conversion across his empire is a totally underrated achievement of his. Too bad Europe was all like, “Yeah, no, thanks, we’re good with our seventy-five-and-counting different currencies. Try back next century, yeah?”);

Money, writing, history, historical fictionLook, I get that researching and figuring out how to include depictions of money sounds about as much fun as listening to Gilbert Gottfried read Strunk & White at open mic night. But, we just have to suck it up and look at it as penance for our sins. Or something like that.

Wanna see the harpy pop out again? Give me a servant girl with more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert. Or the poor farming family whose feisty, independent daughter is always buying and reading books. Or the Regency version of the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

Quick, anybody got a Snickers? I’m feeling a little peckish.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Here is the most important tip for using ye olde economics in historical fiction:

Ask questions.

What questions, you ask? (OMG, stop me, I’m so punny!)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

ALL the questions, because to paraphrase/absolutely slaughter Socrates: we’re not always smart enough to know what we don’t know.Here’s a basic set of questions I use:

Where (literally) in the world are the characters? What are the local industries, geographical resources, etc.? Ship-building on the coast, sheep-shearing inland.

What are the major imports/exports of that region or country at the time? Robin Hood didn’t ever eat corn-on-the-cob (corn is SO 1492!).

What do the characters do for a living? How much is the wage or income for that time period/region/profession/social status? What would the modern equivalent be? The world wasn’t just nobles, peasants, and beggars. There were comfortable—even wealthy—craftsmen, tradesmen, physicians, lawyers, accountants, etc.

What is the currency of the region/country? What were the denominations in use? Was currency used at all, or was it a barter system? Nowadays, who remembers the French ‘franc’? How about the French ‘livre’ or ‘louis d’or’? Okay, yes, I do, but I’m a nerd.

Did they have servants? How many and what kind? What did they pay them? Elbow grease was the original renewable energy source, and even relatively poor families might have a ‘girl’ come in once a week to help out.

What exactly would a character own? Capsule wardrobe or queen’s trousseau?

If you are feeling a little freaked and a lot overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous, torturous research paper I have just assigned you…don’t. This is fiction, and while relative accuracy is necessary, footnotes are not required.In fact, I’m about to show you how to cheat.

My money’s on the answer…

I totally get it that not everyone dreams about spending hours organizing one’s non-fiction library by time period-topic-region. *cough*

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

So, for those out there who just want to get the job done, I present…the quick and dirty way to research just about anything for historical fiction.

Make sure you have a way to organize the research you gather because the last thing any writer wants is to find that *exact* detail we needed, then waste hours trying to find that page again.

Always start with Wikipedia. Print out or save the relevant articles. Make note of dates, places, foreign language words that will need translation if used in the story, specific terms, etc.

Don’t click away yet! Scroll down to the bottom and look at the footnotes! There’s gold in them thar hills! The cited books and articles are the next level of resources for when there’s time/interest.

Next up? Ask Dr. Google. The first entry is almost always Wikipedia, but usually the next hits are also established sources. Google also has great ye olde currency conversion links.

If you know an impecunious doctoral student, bribe them with home-cooked food in exchange for help accessing JStor, one of the largest online repositories of scholarly articles. Also, many public libraries and alma maters offer a wide range of research databases.

Often, Google provides the most precise results from Google Books (because Google is a self-referential bastard). Google Books basically is like a mini-Project Gutenberg (where all kinds of out-of-copyright primary sources are available for free download). Google Books will even HIGHLIGHT the relevant phrases on the pages of the book, and you just can’t get more silver-platter-research than that.

Adding it all up

All joking aside, here’s the process in a nutshell:

  • Get your questions ready.
  • Get ready to organize your findings so you can find ’em again.
  • Go to Wikipedia and print the heck out of the articles…and don’t forget the footnotes!
  • Do a Google search to find other professional or academic resources.
  • If you need to dig deeper, go to the public library or use alumni privileges to access JStor and other academic and research databases.
  • Search Google Books for info hidden in rare and out-of-print books, and Project Gutenberg for free, downloadable primary sources.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Time is money

I often get asked, “How long should I spend researching?”

The answer is easy.

It depends.

*ducks*

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

No, really, it does depend on a lot of individually-determined factors, like how familiar we already are with a time period, how comfortable we are with historical research, or even how much mind-numbing 18th-century prose we can take reading before we tear our hair out, wonder WTF we are doing with our lives, and go become meter maids because that looks like so much more fun than this *ish*.

However, I do think a good milestone is when our brains ‘click.’ Certain names, dates, facts, or events keep popping up consistently, and we begin to feel an almost-comfortable familiarity with them. Another good test is when we don’t need our notes to tell our long-suffering significant other/friend/stranger-duct-taped-to-chair/cellmate about the time period and what people lived like and could afford.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Like all things in writing (and life, but that’s another dissertation for another time), learning to research money takes time and practice. Luckily for penurious writers, the one thing researching money doesn’t take…is money.

(Unless people want to give me Amazon gift cards so I can make headway on my 35-page book wish list. Then I’ll totally take the money because then I can get more books and make things like this ‘Catalogue Raisonné about money, trade, economics, and shopping in history.)

money, history, writing
Want more of these Catalogues Raisonnes? I have a whole page of them over on my website. Just click the image!

NEW CLASS!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, November 16, 2018. 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. EST

So…how’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

The first 10k words? No problem. Another 5k? I can pants that.

Now…I’m at 18k words with 14 days left…and 0 clues about where to go from here.

Sound familiar? This is what I call ‘The Sticky Middle,’ and it is a treacherous swamp that can swallow even the most accomplished, focused writers. It is the moment when writers are most likely to be pulled under by the forces of writer’s block, insecurity, and exhaustion.

The Sticky Middle is the root cause of 98% (I’m guessing here, but I’m pretty darn sure I’m right) of all unfinished first drafts. This class will teach you how to get out of The Sticky Middle…not just for NaNoWriMo, but for every book you write from now on!

This class will cover:

  • Walking into Quicksand: Half of getting out of The Sticky Middle is knowing how we got in there in the first place…and how to avoid making these early mistakes next time;
  • Maslow Stripping: Assessing where characters are when we get stuck…and what we need to take away from them in order to move forward;
  • The Treasure Map: Making sure we have our eye on the prize (i.e. the ending), and how to use that to get through The Sticky Middle;
  • Stop! Break it Down!: (Couldn’t help myself with that…) A blunt, practical way to tackle the amorphous goo that is The Sticky Middle and wrestle it into realistic, achievable, bite-size steps.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

REGISTER NOW!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude.

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday, which means it’s me, Cait Reynolds, coming to you with special guest blogger Lisa Hall-Wilson. It’s a good thing I have a co-blogger today, because I’m on day 14 of a cold and feel like lukewarm coffee – just ugh and barely effective.

Denny Basenji doesn’t like it when I sneeze, so he spends most of his time hiding in his blanket fort.

Denny: Why get a cave bed when you can have your mama custom-drape a blanket fort for you?

If I had the energy, I’d actually be really excited about today’s guest blog post because Lisa and I are also teaching a workshop on this topic in September. We are going to be talking about how to create strong, authentic female characters in fiction. Lisa is specifically focusing on how to avoid extremes, tropes, and types. I will be talking about how to TRULY get into the mindset of historical female characters and what defines strong for them (which is going to be another blog post).

Okay, over to Lisa!

Character, not caricature.

Lisa here! Portraying strong women authentically is tricky. Most of the time, I find strong female characters are caricatures of an extreme: the dim-witted blond, the stock-in-trade man with boobs, the femme fatale. These are stereotypes sure, but what they really are is extreme examples of real life. Can you find an example from history of a female warrior in a male-dominated society – sure, but she’s an outlier. If you want to write an outlier character that’s fine, but let the traits that make her an outlier be the source of her strength not her ability to wield a sword.

Let’s look at a real-world example, Malala Yousafzai. She’s a strong woman, but is she strong because she survived a bullet wound to the head? Yes, partly, but moreso she’s strong because of the choices that led to her being targeted, and the friends and family who empowered her to follow her heart.

Are you able to portray women without these extremes that’s both likable (or at least worthy of cheering for) and surprises readers? That’s the tricky part.

Brave, not dumb.

I love to study Amazons, that mythical race of female warriors written of by the Greeks. The truth is that Amazons were a cautionary tale for their times. This is what might happen if women could make their own decisions about marriage, family, war or the economy. Exotic? Dangerous? Lust-worthy? Absolutely. But in nearly every Greek tale, the Amazons inevitably rush headlong into battle over pride or vanity and are overwhelmingly outnumbered against a professional army. That’s not heroic, it’s stupid. Most women, especially strong women, are not stupid.

 

The danger with the extremes is that characters become one-dimensional. The only reason that character exists is because the hero needs a woman to encourage him. You have no story-based reason for making that character female other than you liked that idea, needed a victim to motivate a male character to act, a reason to insert sex, etc. There was nothing about being female that placed obstacles in her path or helped that character succeed.

Ever did that experiment where you write on a coffee filter with a black marker, get the filter wet and see the variety of colors that went into making black? Strength is like the colors that make up that black marker. Strength is not one thing or act, just like black is not a primary color, but it’s your job as the writer to show all the different colors that make up that character’s strength.

Truth is a subtle strength.

Let’s look at Veronica Roth’s Tris. One of the first things we learn about her is that she chooses to leave Abnegation and join Dauntless because she knows herself and must be true to that. She makes that choice knowing what some of the consequences will be. That’s strength. There are a lot of natural obstacles in her way (one of them being female without any athletic training competing against guys), but she’s not afraid to make friends or find an ally. Being a lone wolf can represent strength but it’s also a self-protection mechanism rooted in fear.

I love 100. I know a lot of people point to Clarke as a strong character, but personally I’m more drawn to Octavia and Raven. These are girls who have fought their way to influence in a variety of ways and through painful personal sacrifices. We’ve seen them as outliers and leaders, run from pain, lash out in anger, deny their own desires, and escape from life. They are intelligent, courageous, fighters, who love, grieve, chase, hate, forgive – the whole spectrum. And each time they get knocked down, they blunder and stumble, but then they get stronger. That’s real life.

Female characters need to be strong, but they need to be real, varied, unique, and as individual as possible.

Want to get more in depth?

Check out the workshop that Lisa and I are offering in September!

Now and Then: Strong Female Characters in Historical and Contemporary Fiction

Instructors: Cait Reynolds and Lisa Hall-Wilson

Price: $70.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

WhenSaturday, September 9, 2017. “Historical not Hysterical” 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. EST. “Beyond Lipstick and Swords” 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST


From fainting virgins to sexually-empowered widows, the ‘historical heroine’ attempts to accomplish the near-impossible: capture the sensibility and reality of the times while keeping the heroine relatable to modern readers.

Until we get time machines, we have to rely on research and our imaginations in order to create authentic, sympathetic historical heroines. The amount of research required can seem daunting, but this class is designed to give you a ‘jump start’ with some basic facts, tricks for getting into your heroine’s head, and hints on how to research efficiently and with confidence.

This class will cover the following topics – and much more:

  • Vital statistics: how to determine the correct age for your female character based on time period;
  • The Three E’s: Education, Entertainment, and Etiquette;
  • Dressing the part: how to capture the feel of an era’s fashions without Mary Sue shopping sprees;
  • Housekeeping from princesses to privy pots;
  • The Three F’s: Faith, Fierceness, and Fiancés. What your female character believes is her destiny and what actually is her destiny;
  • Tips and tricks for quick research.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

 


Want to create strong female characters with depth and vitality but avoid clichés and tired tropes? This class will explore the pitfalls and old ruts writers fall into when creating strong female characters, and what to strive for instead. Because what if your character doesn’t wield a sword or own a power suit – are they still strong?

Learn what’s missing from many depictions of strong female characters and how to write them in a realistic way even if you’re writing fantasy! Joss Whedon isn’t the only one who can write strong female characters – and Wonder Woman isn’t the only type of strong female character you can write.

Some of what you’ll learn:

  • What makes women strong;
  • Making female warriors believable;
  • Shaping societal forces;
  • Women are not men;
  • Women in community;
  • Character agency.

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an award-winning journalist and novelist, and writing teacher. She grew up watching and reading about women like Wonder Woman, Princess Allura, Jo March, She-Ra, Catherine Chandler, Jessica Fletcher, and other less notable characters. After realizing she was repeating all of the tired tropes and stereotypes she hated, Lisa spent months studying strong female characters and learning what makes them authentic and real.

How This Class Works…

After registering, you’ll be sent an email confirmation which will provide you with login information for the online classroom we’ll be using. This class will be recorded so if you’re not able to make it in person you’ll have the recording within two or three days. Come prepared with a sense of humor and a notepad. Yes, this class will be recorded if you can’t make it live, but you want to be there!

About the Instructor

Lisa Hall-Wilson is an Award-Winning Author and Journalist and she LOVES to mentor writers. She’s been a freelance writer for ten years turning her love of words into an income. Her passion is to help beginning writers hone their skills and become published storytellers, so look for her classes to go beyond basics and challenge you.

 

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

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