Thursday, June 17, 2010

BRINGING HISTORY TO STORY: One Crazy Summer (Post #3 of 6)

Dear Allyson and Heather,
     I was drawn into One Crazy Summer partly because it's about the 60's, a time I vividly remember as a college student, participating in lunch counter sit-ins and voter registration in southeastern Tennessee. Although the Black Panthers were getting a lot of press for their political activities, I wasn't aware at the time that they sponsored social programs as well.
     So I was fascinated to read One Crazy Summer--not only as the story of three sisters and their relationships with one another and other members of their family, but also as a window into an organization that was far more complex and fascinating than I had realized at the time.
     In The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, James Alexander Thom clarifies the difference between historians and historical fiction novelists. He says,
[Historians] have to point backward from the present and, bearing the authority of their profession, declare what they believe happened back then. Those who read the prose of a historian understand that they are looking back.

But we novelists, and our readers, aren't looking back to the time. We are in that time, looking forward. We are living in the historical moment, through the vividness of our stories, and looking to the future to find our outcomes. (p. 28) 
     Williams-Garcia takes us back to be in that time by embedding clues to the period throughout the book.

1. Clues in narration: A clue to the time period can be as simple as a single word, like the word now superseded by "flight attendant":
A stewardess rushed to our row. (p. 11) 
2. Clues in dialogue: Williams-Garcia also uses dialogue to give readers historical context for the story:
"How can you send them to Oakland? Oakland's nothing but a boiling pot of trouble cooking. All them riots. " (p. 5)
3. Clues in description: Vivid descriptions clearly anchor the story in past time:
We sat at one of the two long tables. The classroom was unlike any I had ever been in. Instead of pictures of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and President Johnson, there was a picture of Huey Newton sitting in a big wicker chair with a rifle at his side. (p. 69)
 4. Clues in internal monologue: Historical information is also shared with readers through internal monologue:
I knew he meant her, Cecile, when he said Inzilla. I didn't know some of those other names. Only Huey Newton, the Black Panther leader, and Muhammad Ali, used to be Cassius Clay. (pp. 45-46)
 Thom says,
As much as you can, you must be like someone who has lived there, because you're going to be not just the storyteller but also the tour guide taking your readers through the past. (p. 154) 
Williams-Garcia is one awesome tour guide, using clues planted in narration, dialogue, description, and internal monologue to take readers back to a specific time and place in the past.

StorySleuths Tip # 78: When writing historical fiction, use clues planted in narration, dialogue, description, and internal monologue to take your readers back to a specific time and place in the past.  

Post #4: The Ticking Clock