Two of my sons came home for a visit the weekend after my birthday. One carried a florist’s bouquet. As I pulled back the delicate tissue paper and lavender satin ribbon, I seemed to hear Patricia Neal’s smoky voice. “Flowers,” she whispered. “In the dead of winter!”
Amid smiles, hugs, and centering the fragrant blooms on our coffee table, Neal’s words lingered in my thoughts. The movie was The Homecoming: A Christmas Story, a pilot for the old television show, The Waltons. You remember — the Great Depression, a large family. John-Boy. When Olivia Walton (Neal’s character) receives the flowers, her sense of awe is tangible. “Flowers,” she says. “In the dead of winter.”
With those few words we understand Olivia. Her rural poverty. Her warmth and love of beauty. Her wonder at the miracle of flowers growing in winter. The words anchor her in a different time and place, a time when folks couldn’t easily pick-up fresh floral bouquets year-round.
Other than a few blogs and articles, mostly I write historical fiction. Reading it has taught me the need to ground my heroine in the time she lives. I must make her era come alive through her thoughts, deeds, and dialogue. What does she find wondrous? What might she fear? What does she believe? How does all of that influence her words and actions?
It takes a light hand to do this. No long rambling diatribes. Just something simple. Something like “Flowers. In the dead of winter.”
→If you write historical fiction, or any fiction set outside your own norm, what have you found helpful when creating your characters? How do you sculpt them to make them appropriate for the time or place in which they live?