How to Craft Time Travel (aka Historical Fiction)

In my video How to Research for Writing Your Historical Fiction Novel, I pointed out where you could find prime resources to research the time period in which your story is set and what aspects of the certain historical time period you would need to include (which is everything if you want to fully immerse your reader).

Today, I’m going to point out the best ways to incorporate the research you’ve gathered into the actual story that you’ve plotted.

  1. Setting

As with all genres of novels, the setting of your story is heavily crafted usually at the beginning of your story and anytime your scene changes to a different setting. In order to bring that setting to life in a different time period, the following research would be fitting to insert into the description of your settings:

  • condition, names, and material of your roads
  • era appropriate city landmarks
  • blueprints or overall understanding of certain buildings and their surroundings
  • the heartbeat of the setting your characters are inserted into whether that be a country setting or a certain city (what are the smells? what do the people look like? the colours? the transportation? etc.)

Here is an example of how I incorporated the city structure of Victoria in the 1870s to describe the setting around my protagonist:

Five minutes into her walk, the whistles of a steamship rang in her ears. As she turned off Courtney Street and north onto Government Street, she could see bleary-eyed miners a couple blocks ahead lumbering into the Hudson Bay Company, the Royal Bank, and various other shops. Rose eyed a man coming out of the local grocers shop carrying an assortment of mining tools and canned food in a large crate. He swaggered toward the harbour. His eyes burned with a hunger for gold.

Leah Lindeman, Wisps of Gold

2. Characters

The historical research you would incorporate into building your characters would be mostly dialogue and the fashions of the day from clothing to hairstyles if it’s essential to fleshing out your character and/or moving your plot forward.

Let’s first focus on dialogue since it could be almost half of your word count. Depending on what time period your writing is portraying and where you are geographically, the way your characters speak will be determined by these two essential aspects of dialogue.

Modern phrases cannot creep their way into your character’s dialogue since most of them wouldn’t have existed.

To write solidly, you want to stay away from trite expressions as a rule. However, if a character were to use one in dialogue, you would want to make sure that particular phrase was in use during the time period your story is set in. Take for example “jump on the bandwagon.” The expression was only starting to be used in the mid 1800s. So, you wouldn’t want your character to use this phrase if you were writing a story set in the 1600s. It wouldn’t have been spoken at all.

Writing dialogue inclusive of a geographical accent or way of speaking is lots of fun and a colourful and educational way of bringing the past to life in your story. In my latest novella Scathed Bones, Agnus McVee is originally from Scotland. So all her dialogue is written in the Scottish English usage of the day which you can understand for the most part. I’ve included a glossary of the Scottish English words in the back of the book.

3. Plot

Writing a detective thriller set during today compared to writing one set during the Victorian era is quite a different story. Today we’re used to all the available technology to solve a crime. During that time, equipment and technology were limited. In order to be true to the processes of that period, you would need to research how investigations were conducted, how the police worked in conjunction with a detective, and how the prison system operated during that time. You could read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to get a first hand look from the author of how such a story would play out during that time.

When I wrote my first novel Redeemed From the Ashes, I had to heavily research the medicine of the early 1900s. How did they treat third degree burns? What medical operations were available for those kinds of injuries? How did the health system cope when thousands were injured as the result of the Halifax Explosion of 1917?

Whatever vocation is impacting your plot, you need to research all of its intricacies and its processes.

Conclusion

As you can see, different aspects of your research will be essential to certain aspects of telling your story in a way that will be most effective in engaging your readers and helping them time travel to the destination and time you have chosen.

What are some of your favourite historical fiction novels that you see have incorporated research well into the story the author has created?

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