Want to improve your writing and perhaps your life? Consider Historical Reenactment.
Molly Maka, a gifted writer of World War II Romance and an avid historical reenactor has graciously agreed to tell us about historical reenacting.
First, what is historical reenacting? It’s recreating a time in history either as one moment in time or an entire era. Some examples might be the D-Day Landing at Normandy during World War II or the Regency Era.
How do regular people (non-reenactors) usually participate? They watch and ask questions. Most reenactment events are done with the audience looking on. The audience is encouraged to learn but not necessarily take part in the event.
However, places like the Bristol Renaissance Faire feature a kind of reenactment known as environmental theatre, which encourages the audience to be part of the time period, and its performers look to include watchers.
What does Historical Reenacting have to do with Writing? Reenacting allows you to touch the past in ways that your characters would have experienced. Aspiring authors are often encouraged to show not tell. Reenactment has its participants living the event. They taste, feel, see, hear, smell and react in the moment which is exactly what writers are trying to share with their readers.
Also, reenacting gives you a community of resources—experts, materials and sources. Just as in writing, you have to do your homework to make your story or character plausible. If you don’t know your history, then it’s not really reenacting, it’s just getting dressed up.
Make my character plausible? What exactly do you mean? Well, you’ve got to know dates, places, events, important people – each of these help create the impression that you are who you say you are and where you say you are. Your characters MUST know what is going on around them to make the story ring true in the reader’s mind.
|Credit to Ginger Breo|
Can you share some examples? I’ll give you three from the American Civil War.
- Your character would have a very real understanding of how war affects every aspect of daily life.
- Godey’s Ladies Book, Peterson’s and Harper’s Bazaar would be familiar to your character. These were well known periodicals of the time period.
- All of your characters would have an opinion on President Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. These were key political figures at the time. Much like we have thoughts about politicians today, people back then would have an opinion about these two.
What’s another way historical reenacting could help my storytelling? By immersing yourself in the past, you start to think about how people might have thought about things, reacted to events, or handled situations. This makes your story richer and more real.
Can you share tips on how I’d start researching? Start with primary sources. They are the greatest window to what life was like. Some examples are: books, diaries, media, propaganda (yes, even the politically incorrect stuff) and important places that might mean something to your character.
One of our greatest primary sources are the people who lived during the time periods you are writing about (even if they were children at the time) because they can offer you a glimmer of what it was like to live then. Talk to them!
A word of warning: Be careful with modern adaptions and movies set during the time period you are interested in. A lot of times, the historical accuracy is not as accurate as you would hope.
How does reenacting help historical writing? Reenactors do tons of research to be able to pull off someone from another time period. They try to get under their characters’ skin. They have to know the back story, the current events from before and during the period, as well as knowing how people moved (walk, sit, dance, bend, etc.) in their clothing.
Wearing the clothes of the era give you more of an appreciation and understanding of what went into daily life.
Getting into period dress will also help you figure out how their clothes affected their movements and how they viewed beauty and the human form. Every period had a silhouette that was the foundation of the period’s look. For example, women in the 1860s dressed to have an hourglass figure whereas a woman of the Elizabethan Renaissance aimed for a flat front to create two triangles touching point to point.
|Credit to Mark Meier|
Because reenactors recreate a moment in time, they care about using the correct language, slang, and idioms as well as following the proper etiquette. A good writer recreates a scene as well with compelling description and well-paced dialogue as well as manners and actions from her world.
If you’re struggling to make your fiction more real to readers, consider taking some of Molly’s advice. Do some research and then possibly try out reenacting or find a reenactment near you.
If you’d like to find out more about historical reenactment or you have a question for Molly, please post it in the comments and she or I’ll get back to you. Thanks.
Also you can find out more about Molly by visiting her website. www.mollymaka.com