Rebecca Rosenberg is the author of The Secret Life of Mrs. London which releases January 30, 2018. I met Rebecca through a Facebook group of Lake Union authors. Both being writers of historical fiction, we discovered much in common. Here’s Rebecca giving her thoughts on the concept of show don’t tell.
Devilish good details … Most writing workshops focus on writing interesting characters, or a riveting plot rife with conflict, or the structure… all very important in crafting a story. But perhaps for historical novel readers, it is the spicy details that change our experience from commonplace to a story that transports us to a time long ago.
How does the author come up with these bits of intrigue that bond us to the character? Traveling to the locale, antique stores, searching old maps, scanning odd books or the internet? Yes.
In THE SECRET OF MRS. LONDON, I used the Remington typewriter, the mimeograph, and the ediphone to illustrate the tools of the writing trade in the 1915-1917 period covered in the book. My characters, Charmian and Jack London actually used these apparatuses in their writing and they portray these characters and even what is happening in the story.
Charmian London typed on the Remington, as Jack London dictated his stories! She typed 100 words a minute. How is that even possible pushing those mechanical keys? The “prop” of the Remington, illustrates Charmian London’s education as a typist and working at Overland Journal. It characterizes her as an industrious, serious worker that pushes herself, not the norm of the day in 1915. But it occurs to me writing this blog, that the Remington typewriter also indicates a subservience to her husband Jack, because she it typing his words.
I was amazed to find out that Charmian actually copied Jack London’s manuscripts on an early mimeograph, invented by Edison in 1876. Each page had to be fed through and the ink dried. Within the manuscript, using the mimeograph showed the tedious, labor intensive process of creating a manuscript, which Charmian often did, since Jack London produced more than twenty novels in the fifteen years they worked together. Not to mention the articles and letters they wrote! Mountains of typing and mimeographing!
When the London’s bought an ediphone it marked a stark break in their togetherness. Jack could speak into the ediphone by himself, and later Charmian would type it up. Jack was no longer telling his stories to Charmian and watching her make them come alive on the page. And Charmian now had the freedom to spend time on her own writing. In fact, in later years, they hired a typist to transpose Jack’s ediphone recordings.
Other examples of how props are used to depict character traits and state of being, from my favorite authors:
From Kay Bratt, author of THE PALEST INK. The title comes from an old Chinese proverb that says ‘The Palest Ink is better than the best memory’. She chose it because during the Cultural Revolution, people were not allowed to keep any sort of records or photos about what was really going on. Media was twisted to make those in power look good, and tragedies and truths were concealed. The most important object was Mao’s Little Red Book. It is rumored to have landed in the hands of billions of people. During the Cultural Revolution in China, it was an unofficial requirement for every Chinese citizen to own, to read, and to carry it at all times. For their own safety, people memorized segments of it, to prove their loyalty and avoid persecution or death. Later, after the Cultural Revolution was shut down, Mao was exposed as a madman and the cause of millions of tragic deaths throughout China.
From Camille Di Maio, author of BEFORE THE RAIN FALLS. One of her characters, Della Lee Trujillo, is in a Texas women’s prison in the 1940s, convicted for the murder of her sister. As she is being driven to the prison from the courthouse, she clings to a rosary that had been her mother’s. Her mother deserted the family when she ran off with her lover, so Della begins to fear that it is tainted by her mother’s sin. As she prays, the words “Forgive us our trespasses…” plays in her mind and she recalls all the events that led up to that moment.
So what objects can best describe your character, and what she is going through? The use of unique props is a great example of a writer’s mantra: Show. Don’t Tell.
A riveting story of ambition and infidelity, The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg captures the fateful meeting of the Houdinis and Londons, the most remarkable couples of their time. Jack London, the most popular author in America, and Houdini, a world-renown escape artist, have reached the pinnacles of their careers in 1915. While their wives, Charmian London and Bess Houdini are opposites, they bond through their trials with the over-sized egos of their famous husbands. Free Love, blinding fame, tenuous success, and the Great War threaten them. The couples struggle to hold onto their marriages through the challenges, eventually succumbing to the lure of another’s arms … until one of them takes a stand … alone. Releases January 30, 2018. You can pre-order your copy now.
Many thanks, Rebecca, for sharing your thoughts on this subject and the technique you used for The Secret Life of Mrs. London. Your story sounds like it has all the ingredients of a winner.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.