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Take Your Historical Fiction Setting to the Next Level

As we’ll discuss further on Friday, historical fiction settings are intensely important. They not only frame the story; they’re meant to be the very canvas the story is written on.

Despite how so many people think of history as boring, writers can have a lot of fun with their historical fiction settings, finding facts and factoids that provide dashes of humor, dark intrigue or utter confusion at how “weird” our global predecessors could be.

These are the kinds of things that people will judge us by someday. But for now, we’re not historical fiction setting material. (Neither are the '80s quite yet, thank you very much.) We get to be all smug and certain that what we’re doing is normal and proper and non-weird.

With that superiority complex firmly in place, let’s get right down to this week’s Challenge.

Find 10 random facts about your historical fiction story’s setting to incorporate into the narrative.

Every time and place combination has some random wacky customs or beliefs that sets it apart from every other time and place. It might be apparel-related, speech-related or economics-related.

Whatever it is, we now consider it quaint or obsolete, downright peculiar or appalling uninformed. Find 10 such random facts about the culture and era your

historical fiction setting would include, then drop them into the story at engagingly random spots.

Yes, you will have to do some historical research in order to follow this challenge. But you should be doing copious amounts of that anyway. Actually, you should be doing so much historical research that these kinds of historical fiction setting facts and factoids simply drop into your lap.

Here are the kind of details I’m talking about:

  • According to Business Insider, Western culture quacks in the early 1900s successfully pushed the notion that radioactive consumable, applicable and wearable products were the solution to whatever ails you.

  • Queen Elizabeth I, the supposedly sweet, tolerant, enlightenment-inducing darling, had her ladies-in-waiting imprisoned if they dared marry without her permission. Or so says History Undressed at Considering how utterly awful Queen Elizabeth I was in other areas, that sounds about right.

  • In 2011, the BBC reminded readers about how soldiers of India’s Bengal army “shot their British officers, and marched on Delhi” in 1857, inspiring a larger mutiny and mass murders on either side.

  • Wikipedia notes that the Chinese actually had paper money during their 960-1279 A.D. Song Dynasty era.

Now, admittedly, some of those sources are a little sketchy. Working for nine years as a financial editor, I can tell you that Business Insider is rather quackish in and of itself. It’s not hardcore clickbait, but it’s certainly clickbait-light.

And Wikipedia, for all the advances it’s made since my college days, is still Wikipedia. So I did fact-check that source with a few other sources before I added the radioactive detail in here.

But again, you’re doing tons of research for your historical fiction setting anyway. So you’re sourcing and cross-sourcing left and right regardless. Right?

This writing challenge shouldn’t sound daunting. It should be entirely engaging to the type of person interested in working within this genre in the first place. If it doesn't, you might want to rethink your timeline choice.

Otherwise, explore your historical fiction setting for all it’s worth! Both for your sake and your readers’.

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