Monday, July 26, 2010

Walking a While in My World

A week ago, my family attended the Silver Leaf Renaissance Faire in Battle Creek, MI. The day we attended, the temperature was bake-a-biscuit-in-the-sun 100-something, and the humidity was the rough equivalent of God's left armpit.  What better weather to lace oneself into a leather corset and spend the day outside?

I went intending to spend a fun afternoon with my family and friend.  And it was, indeed, a lovely day.  However, since I'm currently working on a novel set in medieval England, I found it impossible not to do research.  Because a writer's brain never turns off.

Now, I know that ren faires are hardly authentic.  I know my family was nowhere near authentically clad.  And at no time did I ever seriously think that I was in the Middle Ages.  But that didn't stop me from finding out stuff about my characters that I might not have known otherwise.

I have been treading ancient roads in my mind for months.  However, after only 10 minutes of immersing myself in the "reality" of my characters' lives, I discovered several things.  Among them:

 *  In the absence of 21st century clothing and technology, dirt and sweat and dust and noise should be much more pervasive in my book than than they currently are.

* Shop keepers have probably not changed in 10 centuries.  Some went to great lengths to sell me stuff I didn't want or need.  Others bent my ear telling personal stories I'd rather not have heard.  Even if my characters inhabit the pages of history -- even if they shop in strange shops and eat odd things -- their interactions with others will likely mirror interpersonal actions of today. 

Note to self: don't allow characters to become two-dimensional drones that are defined only by their jobs and the role they must play within my story.  Breathe realistic life into them at every opportunity.

*  When two knights joust, the combined weight of 2 horses, men & armor is over 2 1/2 tons.  You can literally feel the ground shake as they run at each other. 

Furthermore, the actual match takes very little time at all.  Two horses rushing at each other at a gallop closes the gap between them much faster than you'd think.

*  Hand-to-hand combat involves a lot of grunting. Plus, metal hitting metal is really loud.

* A lack of sound amplification means the crowd has to be very quiet in order to hear what an announcer or performer has to say.  Missed words are quickly whispered to those standing behind one.  Much is lost in the translation.

*  Humanity does not change.  Lovers quarrel, babies cry, kids whine, old folks grumble.  Some crave the limelight; others shun it.  Some go for laughs; some for applause.  Some think quickly on their feet; others work to keep up.  Some people readily stop and listen to a trio of singers, enjoy the music, and throw the musicians a token of their appreciation.  Others dicker and dither trying to retain every cent they started with.  If I want to make my foreign world and time accessible to my readers, I must remember to make my reader as much a part of it as possible.

I returned home energized -- filled with ways to make my story more compelling.

Whatever you are writing, I encourage you to find a way to become a minor character for an hour or a day.  See the world through a fringe player's eyes.  Take notes as if you were traveling in a foreign country.  Then incorporate your new insight into your story.  And watch your writing come alive!

1 comment:

wulfie said...

That's a really cool idea and experience. Thanks for sharing.

I've been known to act out scenes or play act a character or two. I've even gone shopping or to a public place (where I'm not known) to 'be' the character. It really does help you get into character (arg...groan) if you spend a few hours or a day in their skin.

Fun stuff!