Fiction takes you places

Fiction = stories. But no story is complete without at least one reader’s imagination, empathy, personal experience, mood, and openness. Authors find a story to tell – readers decide more precisely what and where that story is.

For example, I set Lies Told in Silence in a village in northern France at the beginning of World War One. It’s your job to fill in the details of the local shops, the church, and the main square. [photos are from my travels]

Soon they turned onto Rue Principale, where cobbled streets lined with squat, red-roofed houses ran perpendicular to the road. Down one lane, Helene saw a group of children playing skittles and an old woman in a black dress sweeping her front step. Faded coveralls, rough linen shirts and long aprons hung from clotheslines strung across the lane from second storey windows. As they neared the centre of Beaufort, the houses were larger, with wide front doors and lace-curtained windows, and the shops looked more prosperous.

Gaston talked as he drove, pointing out the doctor’s clinic, a brasserie known for local beers, the school Helene and Jean would likely attend and roads leading south to Amiens and north to Lille. He slowed the car to a crawl as a horse-drawn wagon drew in front of them.

“This is the main square,” Gaston said.

The circular space was dominated by a fountain with a central plume of water shooting high into the air, ringed by six smaller plumes, the entire structure enclosed by a stone wall no more than a metre high. A church and its tall belfry anchored the far side, and five streets fanned out in all directions, one marked by the statue of a rearing horse.

What do you imagine this church looks like? Did you picture a series of small shops circling the square? Was there a soldier on that horse? How many people were sitting on the wall surrounding the fountain? Was the town bustling or sleepy? Did a dog scamper along beside the car? Were the cobblestones grey or red? Are there flowers in the window boxes? Were there any prominent colours? What else did you see or hear or smell?

In subsequent chapters additional details emerge …

They crossed the bridge into Beaufort, following its winding main street crowded with flat-fronted shops, painted shutters protecting second-floor rooms from both heat and cold. Wooden crates were piled beside the green grocer, and a bicycle leaned against the wall under its window. Next to the green grocer was an unoccupied store, its stuccoed walls marked with a large crack. Above the lintel, a gnarled vine clung to life, snaking around a wrought iron lamp full of cobwebs. Beyond the vacant store was La Fontaine Fleurie, the local florist, its door open to welcome shoppers. Stacked on either side of the door were buckets of fresh-cut flowers as well as pots in all manner of colours and shapes overflowing with houseplants.

And …

While her grandmother spoke to the pharmacist, Helene looked around. One wall contained a picture of a beautiful, full bosomed woman holding a mirror while contemplating a selection of powders and perfumes. It was an advertisement for Savon Blanche Leigh, a miracle soap, or so the sign said. On the opposite wall was a desk topped with five concentric rows of narrow shelves, each shelf jammed with carefully labelled glass bottles, and in the middle of the desk, a set of scales and weights ready for Dr. Valdane to prepare his prescriptions.

The hope is for descriptions like these to allow you, the reader, to situate yourself in a small French village more than one hundred years ago.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

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, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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Meet M.K.Tod

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7 Responses

  1. Mary,
    I love this.
    Breaking it down into such simple (but effective) ways to approach and fictionalize, imagine, and “see” the story.
    Google earth does a great job, but NOTHING compares with walking those streets. At least for several days (weeks/months.)
    Thanks, Mary!

    1. Thanks, Danie … I’ve used Google earth when I was looking for what the layout of my fictional town might look like. Very helpful to see the roads from the air!

  2. Your stories always make me feel I’m right there with the characters. Every sense is touched and the story becomes vividly alive. You’ve got the knack, Mary. Thank you!

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