On June 16th Grease turns 40! Aside from being one of the most beloved musicals/movies of all time, it’s an example of a wonderful period piece. Shot in the 70s but representing the 50s, it’s a fun model of historical fiction.
If you’re considering writing in a different time period, it can be a big task to tackle. Get some can’t-miss advice from these authors who have already done it!
Binge Research and Interviews
“The Subway Girls is dual storyline: 1949 and 2018. To ensure that my 1949 characters’ language, dress, food choices, etc. were true to their time period, I watched movies set during the late 40s, tirelessly Googled everything from vintage menus to hem lengths to slang, read period articles, studied Miss Subways research books, searched for original Miss Subways posters at the NY Transit Museum, and much more. The best part of my research was interviewing women who actually held the title of Miss Subways back in the 40s and 50s. Their stories are fascinating, and I tried to weave their collective memories into the novel to make the experiences of my 1949 characters as authentic as possible.”
Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series (set in 18th century Scotland)
“It seems to me that a historical novelist has considerable responsibility for accuracy — not merely to the contemporary readers, but to the people and times of the past.”
Turning Horror into Curiosity
“Understanding our past often illuminates the present. I was too young in 1968 to participate, but I was old enough to observe and be affected by that moment of social transformation. We are sometimes horrified by the views of historical figures, but that is actually the best way to understand and take on the cloak of a certain moment in history. As a historian, writer and reader, mining the words and thoughts of that moment and synthesizing them with more scholarly works becomes a way to tighten the lens on motivation and the essence of human existence.”
History That Can’t Be Ignored
Pam McGaffin, author of The Leaving Year (set in 1960s Alaska)
“I decided to set my young-adult coming of age novel, The Leaving Year, in the late 1960s because the time period fit the themes of prejudice (pre-judging) and false assumptions that run through my story. The identity crisis the country was going through in 1967 and 1968 provided the perfect backdrop to my protagonist’s internal struggles following the mysterious disappearance of her father.
Setting my story in such an iconic period presented its own challenges though. You can’t write about the late 1960s without writing about the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Sen. Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy. I took care to get all the details right, including what my protagonist would have been doing at the time the news broke and how she might have reacted as a teenager butting up against her mother’s over-protectiveness.”
Interested in more writing advice? Check out more tips on writing historical fiction over at SheWrites.com. From Jenna Blum to SparkPress’ own Kari Bovee, find out how to shape characters that feel real and write a timeless story.