Guest Post by Judy Lynn Ichkhanian –

When people I meet discover that I write Historical Romance, they shake their heads and ask the same question: how can I write a story based in a world so different to our own? My answer is simple. I start with the fact that people are people. Then, I add in individual quirks and Time.

 Just as humankind today of all colors, nationalities, and beliefs possess the same basic needs and desires, there’s no reason to imagine people of yesterday were so different as to remain incomprehensible. Archeological finds, art, documents, and creative writing throughout the ages provide tantalizing glimpses of a certain truth: the basics of humanity remain a fixed point around which the rest of life wobbles.

For example, the drive for survival is ubiquitous. Take away a basic need such as food, shelter, or clothing, and a character planted in any historical age will do whatever is necessary, within his/her own moral parameters, to endure. True, the morality of a place and time can vary (which is part of what I call “Time,” and requires research- see below), but the character’s drive to overcome, and the exigent circumstances created by the need, won’t.

Beyond the necessities, people have common desires that transcend time and space, the acknowledgment of which is necessary, and the opposition of which often creates great stories. Authors must be attuned psychologists. We have to understand the essence of human nature in order to build characters with quirks that deviate from the norm. For instance, humans generally want companionship and love. Almost always, they wish to be admired and accepted. They usually wish to be physically and socially comfortable and secure. But… some don’t. Knowing humanity’s “normal” allows an author to overshadow human nature with individual character traits that are interesting and compelling.  

 In other words, though individual personalities differ (driven by background, experience, nature, and nurture), humans are humans in whatever time and space you should find them. They love. They hate. They survive.

Only once I have fixed the character’s needs, wants, desires, foibles, and fears, both the common and the individual, do I consider the particular parameters of the Time in which I’m writing. What are the restraints? What are the opportunities? What are the moral boundaries of the world, and how will my character operate within those restrictions given his/her needs, desires, and oddities?

I happen to write Victorian Romance. Because my fictional rides are meant to be light, fun and unorthodox, I can skirt some conventions and exaggerate others, but in order to break the rules, I first have to know the Victorian world down to my toes. Take afternoon tea: gloves on or off? Pinkies extended or wrapped around the handle? Seated at a proper table, or made to hold a cup, saucer, and biscuit on one’s lap? The details are important. With them, I set or break the world.

Unlike when I began writing Historical Romance back in the Dark Ages, tiny, pesky questions can be answered with the internet. Everything from scholarly articles to blurbs unveil the various customs of the day.

But can you trust the internet?

The answer is, as always, no. However, I find there is assurance in numbers. If a great majority opines it was uncouth to extend pinkies, well, that’s the rule I accept. Unless there’s a contemporaneous Victorian memorialization of pinky rules I can look up, or someone invents a time machine and makes it available for public use, I’ve little choice but to trust the popular response. Yes, I’m one-hundred-percent certain that if I traveled back in time, I would find an unimagined world full of peculiarities and misalignments, but until such a day arrives, consensus is history. For now.

Of course, simply browsing blurbs on the internet is insufficient for historical novel writing beyond nailing down some details either misplaced or forgotten. Actual research into period writings and scholarly articles is required. But to truly obtain a feel of the historical period, to bring the past to life, we authors need to wallow. We need to drown in the Time until the warp and weft of its cloth is as well-known to us as our own.

To know the Victorian age, I visit museums. I study the furnishings, accessories, clothing, music, and art. I also immerse myself in period pieces of writing (which is easier for me than someone writing about life in Canaan) so as to better understand the formality of speech, even if I don’t choose to emulate it exactly. I visit antique shops so I can touch history. And yes, I read those dry academic pieces, too. One of my writing acquaintances, Kathleen Buckley, recreates recipes from the 1700s. When I read her novels, I swear I can taste the environment.

Historical authors hold an uneasy peace within ourselves. We must be in equal parts anthropologists, psychologists, historians, and imaginators. We must understand human nature while simultaneously envisioning such nature alive in a distant age. And though there is a formula I believe works best (human nature, first-personality traits, second-Time, third), all these aspects must work together in order for a credible story to emerge. After all, few writers wish to discover their alpha, warrior hero bemoaning a missed phone call in ancient Greece, or a noble heroine refusing to marry the prince because of her abiding love for a baseball-playing serf in the Middle Ages.

Some anachronisms just aren’t credible, though I suspect a brilliant writer might make them so…

Judy Lynn Ichkhanian writes Victorian Romance and has published four books that either directly or indirectly take place in the Raised All Wrong world. Some of her books have even won writing awards. Fun, quirky reads are her specialty, but there’s nothing wrong with a little Assyriology thrown in for good measure! Find out more at: judylynnichkhanian.com, and find her novels at: https://linktr.ee/judylynnichkhanian  

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