So, as I’m outlining my NaNo, my characters do things that normal New Yorkers do: go to Starbucks, take the subway, complain about the subway, do a side-eye when a celebrity walks by but go on about your business, get stuck in crowds, bitch about how slow some people walk. I’m deliberately leaving the year that this story takes place vague, but it’s definitely New York as I experience it now, you know?
It’s different in my historical fiction, which starts in 1799 and kind of ends in mid-1801. There were several large-scale things happening at the time, like the continuous warfare between Britain and France that would last until Waterloo, the growing British abolition movement (though, in 1800, because of sedition laws passed as Britain entered war against France, abolition groups weren’t meeting), King George III’s intermittent madness.
Then there are the general things about the time period that apply when one is writing about a segment of the British aristocracy.
Estates, because the British upper classes owned them, sometimes several of them. Estates included not only a large house, parkland, and farms, but entire villages, too.
Primogeniture. The oldest son inherits the bulk of everything–title, money, land, house. This is especially true if there is an entail, an archaic piece of law that you may heard about four dozen times in the first season of Downton Abbey. An entail made it impossible for one lord, let’s say, to sell his house or to sell too much land to cover his gambling debts so that the heir would inherit a house and land to earn his income. The daughters had dowries once they married. The younger sons? Bah. Here’s your allowance and maybe a piece of unentailed land or a house, now go work. But not, like, work. Go into the army as an officer, which won’t pay you enough to live on. Go into the navy, go become a lawyer or a politician.
How do you think a historical fiction author makes stuff like this clear? How does one get the time period and the intricacies of the time period across without veering into, “Well, you know, Lord Bob, when you die, your heir inherits…”
I’m thinking back on when I read The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick. It’s about William Marshal, who rose to become England’s regent after King John’s death. So it takes place in the 1180s and the sequel covers the latter part of Marshal’s life. Not a time period I really know anything about, but I soon got the hang of the period while reading.
I’ll have to figure out what made it easy to slip into medieval England.