A few weeks ago, I wrote about plotting and historical fiction – plot being one of the seven elements of historical fiction that I’ve been examining. Last week, with the help of Libbie Hawker’s thoughts on outlining a novel, I began to plot a sequel to my recent novel Paris In Ruins.
Paris In Ruins was set during the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune – two significant historical events in the city’s life that provided an abundance of drama: radical clubs trying to overthrow the government, the Prussian army tightening the noose around Paris, food shortages, a severe winter, bombardment of hospitals and government buildings, inept military leadership … the list goes on.
But what about the period that follows those significant events? Hmmm – not quite so momentous.
Character is central to any novel, more specifically the character’s arc which is, as Hawker describes, his or her “progression from emotional point A to emotional point B” as the character struggles to achieve her goal, is thwarted, struggles again, and ultimately gains enough insight into her fundamental flaw to make a change. Plot is the external events that provide a logical framework for the character’s arc. According to Libbie, “every element of plot must relate to character arc, theme, or story core” – the character’s struggle to achieve her/his goal.
But I’m writing historical fiction. Readers expect to be surrounded by history, to be transported in time and place, and to learn something in the process.
In France Since 1870, Charles Sowerwine’s definitive book on the history of France since the installation of a Republic, the period after the fall of the Commune, 1870 to 1885 or so, is labelled The Triumph of the Republicans. This is a period when those in favour of returning to some sort of monarchy were firmly rebuffed by those in favour of a republican form of government – rebuffed by political means and not by war or uprising. Elections took place, power transitioned, more elections and so on – in other words, boring stuff happened.
So in plotting a sequel to Paris In Ruins, I’ve had to examine other aspects: society, culture, religion, technology, and business to find the basis for plot. Imagine looking in your kitchen for ingredients to make a four course dinner. It’s surprising what you can make with a little ingenuity. Here’s what I’ve found in the latter part of 19th century Paris and France: La Belle Epoque, the long depression, new technologies like electricity, dynamite, telephones and typewriters, women’s rights, the completion of Haussman’s transformation of Paris, a shift from agrarian to industrial workplaces, the advent of the department store, French colonial expansion, construction of the Eiffel tower, universal exhibitions, the rise of the impressionists, new fashions and fashion houses.
Surely that’s enough ingredients for my characters and an engaging plot.
Readers might wonder what happened to the blue highlights I’ve used in my posts for years. WordPress seems to have changed something and at the moment, I can’t figure out how to add colour to a few words rather than to an entire block of words. Don’t you wish folks would leave well enough alone?
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon US, Amazon Canada, Kobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier 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.