Generally, in an amateur setting (and in some professional settings too), there is considerable confusion between historical fiction, mythological fiction and fantasy. The lines do overlap, and the elements that define each genre are sometimes not as rigid as we’d like them to be. In spite of our best efforts, literature refuses to be pigeon-holed into nice little boxes. Oh, well.
But there are two main elements that set historical fiction apart:
- The story is set in a period of documented, verifiable history.
- The story world is realistic to the specific era. There are typically no magic or spells in historical fiction.
The first exercise was about treating our own childhoods as ‘history’. (The way the technological revolution has taken over our lives, this is true after a fashion.) The idea is to go back at least fifteen years into your past and describe events in your life on August 15, 1997. This was a fairly important date in India’s history because it marked the fifty-year-celebration of our independence.
Put yourself into the shoes of a British woman named Anne Hall who was seven years old in 1947. She left the country only to return in 1997 to the same place. While the ‘1947’ part of your piece will be necessarily drawn from books and second-hand information, the ‘1997’ bits should be drawn from personal experience. The more personal, the better.
Here are a few things you can incorporate into your piece:
- The economics. In 1997, India was just waking up to liberalization. Jobs were not as common as they are now. There were only two career paths open to college-going children: medicine and engineering
- Social. There was no social media. No internet. No mobile phones. Letter writing was still prevalent.
- Culture. Bollywood was taking its first steps to ‘big business industry’ status. English was not so widely spoken across the country as it is today.
This is a prompt-based exercise. The goal is to write scenes that resonate with the ‘period’ the prompt suggests to you. And the most important thing is to let the ‘historicity’ of your scene shine through.
- ‘Why do you suppose we’re all here?’ ‘I only know what I’ve been told.’ ‘And what’s that?’ ‘Don’t ask questions.’
- Mrs Winthrop was peeking out of the window of her castle again.
- Door, Silver, label, dawn, clasp. Write a scene containing all five words.
- Diary of a dropout
- Empty Pages
- Black and white photograph, five siblings and a nanny. Five people in the room, sitting around and talking about the photograph
- Snow, Windows, night, candle, branches, waiting. Write a scene containing all six words.
- Let the others of my sex tie the knot around their necks, I prefer a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition than to ever let a woman in my life
- ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘you’re no gentleman.’ ‘An apt observation,’ he said, ‘and you’re no lady.’
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia