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 www.mktod.com.

Dazzled by a green door

Dear all – this is the first post in a new series I’m calling transported … hope you enjoy it.

Almost two years ago – hard to believe – my husband and I spent three weeks living in a Paris apartment. We walked the streets searching for evidence of Paris 1870, the setting for Paris in Ruins, an as yet unpublished novel. The idea was to live like Parisians do, while absorbing the culture and feel of the city which still reflects that time period.

Historical fiction has the privilege and challenge of transporting readers in time and place. Readers say that’s the number one priority of historical fiction. Walking the streets, I focused on discovering little details that might create exactly that feeling for readers.

One day I was dazzled by this green door. What emotion does it evoke? What time period does it represent? Who fashioned the almost sinister-looking knocker? What would the knocker sound like? Look at how the shadow extends the length of the fingers. Did you notice the woman’s hand bears a ring and the wrist is framed with a ruffle? What sort of people passed through the door? Why is there a grill at eye level?

Imagine the scene: Exhausted and bedraggled, Mariele lifted the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand and let it fall. She smiled limply at her mother and knocked again. Maman’s cheeks were sunburned and her hair, normally tightly coifed, now lay like thick ribbons down her back. Their clothes were dirty, their hands scratched from climbing fences, their legs so fatigued they could barely stand. Mariele wore no boots, her feet bound in strips of cotton torn from her petticoat, were cut and blistered, the cloth damp with blood. – from Paris in Ruins 

Or maybe this could happen: Claire was curious about the door, not only its vivid green colour but also the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand. Stefan had told her to meet him at the shop with the green door but he’d said nothing about the knocker or the small grill that allowed the owner to scrutinize visitors before letting them in. “Details are the lifeblood of espionage,” Captain Lucas always said. If she made a mistake now, the mission would fail.

Or this: Breathless and with blood oozing from the wound to her side, Lisette lifted the knocker – the one Michel fashioned in the shape of her very own hand. She let it fall once and then twice before collapsing to the ground.

Every time I see this photo, I’m transported to another time and place.

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 www.mktod.com.