Traveling Through Our Books

Writing fiction is a form of time travel. Science fiction takes us into the future, and historical fiction gives us a ride into the past. Even if a story is set in the present, we have to provide enough detail to make the reader feel like she is a witness to what is taking place.

There is a reason why many beloved books have stood the test of time. The authors of books like the Little House Series, Chronicles of Narnia,
Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins, and A Wrinkle in Time create realistic worlds that we want to visit again and again. When the setting, characters, and unique details are painted with words, we lose all track of time and want to stay in this place.  Wrinkle in Time / Wind in the Door / Swiftly Tiltling Planet

As a writer of historical fiction, research is what brings a time period to life.

If I want readers of my novel WHEELS OF CHANGE to follow Emily Soper’s adventures, they have to be grounded in the reality of 1908 Washington DC.

            What was life like in the Nation’s Capital 110 years ago?

            It was very rural for one thing. With the exception of Pennsylvania Avenue, the area around the train station, and a few streets bordering 7th Street – the main street of commerce - there was only gas lighting and no electricity. Indoor plumbing was still a novelty. Many roads were unpaved or had cobblestones. There were farms and wooded areas surrounding the government buildings. Most people still rode in horse-drawn wagons, carriages, or buggies.  Many goods were still made by hand. Incorporating these details into the story grounds it and fixes the time and place.

Character is another way to create an authentic story. When a story takes place in another era, the writer has to be sure to use language and sentence structure that rings true. In 1908, children spoke in a more formal style, like their parents. Very little slang was used. Children addressed other adults as Mr. or Mrs. and often used “sir” or ‘ma’am” when speaking to their parents.

A character’s actions and behavior was different than it is today. Expectations for males and females were much more divided and specific. Boys had more freedom to explore and be adventurous. They were expected to roughhouse and get into trouble now and then. Girls on the other hand, were expected to be lady-like and exhibit proper behavior at all times. They were encouraged to excel at the “domestic arts” such as sewing, cooking, housekeeping, and child rearing. 

The best books transport us and make us feel we are right beside the characters. Finding the right details takes us there.


  1. I always think of a book as a way to get in someone else's head--but you're right, it's also a way to visit another time.


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