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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Writing Historical Fiction, part 11 more Examples

Applicable to all writing, I offer my five basic rules again, and I will show you some examples of how to immerse your readers in your writing.
1. Don't confuse your readers.

2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don't show (or tell) everything.
5. Immerse yourself in the world of your writing - colliery: immerse your readers in the world of your writing.
If you noticed, I added a colliery.  The point here and the point of the question I answered yesterday was, how do you immerse your readers in a completely different world than their own.  I have a foot up because one of my day jobs is to teach people, and in those classes, I try to get them to experience the cultures we are talking about.  Writing however is very different than technical writing or teaching.  You can't immerse your readers by suddenly giving them a treatise on a culture or history.  So I'll provide some examples from my writing.

The first example is description from the novel Aegypt,
"Paul signaled his men to remount. His horse, l’Orage, was skittish and danced back a step as Paul hauled his aching frame into the saddle. Her muscles rippled like silk under her black coat, and Paul touched her gently to soothe her. l’Orage had been his steed for nearly three years, almost half the time he had been in Tunisia.

He had bought her from a Berber’s market on the coast. She was the most beautiful horse he had ever seen. Feral and full of fire, she was uncontrollable in the hands of her merchant owners and stood blindfolded and hobbled in the market horse pen. A demon in the guise of a horse, she was black as charcoal without a trace of lighter markings. Paul knew she was stolen the minute his eyes lit upon her.

He paid in cash—francs, and few of those, because of her temperament. When he entered the pen to claim her, Berbers, Arabs, and Tunisians lined the enclosure to watch the black fiend trample the foolish Lieutenant. Paul walked quietly up to her, and when the laughing merchant stripped off the blindfold and hobbles, Paul spoke a single word. l’Orage calmed immediately and let him stroke her face.

Contemptuously, he led her on a light field-lead out of the marketsquare. The marketplace had turned into a frenzy of babbling men, women, and children. The native peoples sidled out of Paul’s way as if he were himself a demon from the pit. At the edge of the market, to the amazement of the spectators, Paul leapt upon l’Orage bareback and rode off at a gallop. He laughed all the way back to the garrison.

l’Orage was a horse trained for war. She was an Arabian, bred and drilled to the battlefield. She was trained to kill and to the tactics of combat. She was a European’s horse. Paul could tell by her carriage and by the saddle scars on her flanks. Only one type of European warrior had found his way into the wilds of Tunisia: l’Orage had to be a Frenchman’s horse. Paul guessed that, but his confirmation came when he first stood before her, wondering himself if she would strike him before he could speak. His single word was French, and with that single word, he knew she answered to only one tongue—French. Not to the Tunisian or Berber or Arabic her previous masters unsuccessfully tried, only to French. In combat after combat, she proved herself to be, by far, one of the finest horses in the Legion stables."

Right from the beginning of the novel, you have a very short description of how Lt. Bolang bought his horse l'Orage.  The description itself tells you a lot about the times, place, and people.  It gives you a small window into Lt. Bolang and tells you about the languages and the problem of language in Tunisia.  It lets you know the feeling of the people for the Foreign Legion and the fact that horses are still used in warfare at this time and in this place.  This is a method of using description to immerse the reader into the times and place and to let them taste the culture and society.  By the way, l'Orage means tempest or thunderstorm in French and the description takes place right after a thunderstorm in the desert and a tempest-like attack on Tunisian bandits.

Now an example of using conversation to immerse your reader in the times and place.  This is from Centurion,

“Where are you from, youngster?” Portius asked Abenadar.

“I came from Natzeret in the Galil.”
“From Natzeret?” said Euodus. “Is the Primus now accepting trash from the provinces?” Euodus was as fancy a man as Abenadar had ever seen. His short hair was carefully shaped to form oiled ringlets in the style of a Persian warrior. His face was angular but well made. He wore a colorful tunic with pins and decorations all over it.
“No, I’m a Roman citizen,” answered Abenadar.
Euodus smiled. “Another bastard child of Rome. You are well placed in this century. We are all bastards of one type or another.”
Portius laughed out loud, but Lupus protested, “I, for one, have a family in Italia.”
“Yes, but does your family claim you?” riposted Euodus.
“They will welcome me back when I am released from service.”
“If your throat is not cut first by these rebels, you may see Italia again.”
Lupus rubbed his throat and made a face. “I wish you wouldn’t put it like that, Euobus.”
“Don’t get carried away, Lupus,” said Portius. “The people fear us.”
“Yes, they fear our blood will splatter their clothing when they slit our throats.”
“Shut up, Euobus,” said Portius. “Come, Abenadar. Don’t listen to his rambling. It is meaningless. As long as we stay together, we are in little danger, and we’re always safe while in camp.”
Without waiting for Abenadar, Portius walked out the door. Abenadar quickly followed behind him. As Portius exited the barracks, Abenadar hurried to catch up. “The camp is huge. How many legions does it hold?”
Portius chuckled. “It doesn’t hold even one.”
Abenadar was shocked.
Portius noted Abenadar’s look and laughed again. “That’s right. This camp holds only two cohorts: the I Cohort, Primus and the X Cohort, Decimus—the first and the last in the III Gallica. Admittedly, the Primus Cohort is the largest and best, but the Decimus isn’t a training cohort. It isn’t made up of inexperienced recruits.” Portius glanced at Abenadar. “You excepted. You will get along well if you can translate in the marketplace, especially if you can speak with the barmaids and whores. I predict you will be a very popular man in the Decimus Cohort.”
“How many men are in our cohort?” asked Abenadar.
“During your training, you will learn how the legion is organized, but I guess I can start your education early. The Decimus Cohort is formed of six centuries. They are called the Pilus Prior, the Pilus Posterior, the Princeps Prior, the Princeps Posterior, the Hastatus Prior, and the Hastatus Posterior. We are part of the Hastatus Posterior, the Lion Century. Each century contains about 80 men. The men are organized into 10 columns of eight each. All the other cohorts from the second to the tenth are put together the same way, but the Primus Cohort is different.”
Here you can see in conversation, I give you many details about the place, times, people, and the Roman Legion.  In conversation, Portius goes on to give Abenadar a host of information about the Legions that the reader likely doesn't know and that Abenadar doesn't know.  The character and the reader both learn from the experience and the tones and conversation tells you a lot about the fears of the Roman soldiers and their concerns.
Tomorrow, I'll conclude this series on writing Historical Fiction and move to science fiction.

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