Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writers Read, Part 2 — The Preacher's Bride

I mentioned in a previous post that I'd starting reading a historical novel that seemed very promising. Yes, The Preacher's Bride was just as enjoyable as those first few pages led me to believe. I stayed up late a few nights because I didn't want to put it down!

The setting is the closest to my work-in-progress that I've found so far — 1650s England (mine starts about 1660 in Ireland). TPB is also based on real people. So while I enjoyably immersed myself in the story, in the back of my mind I picked up writing tips.

For example, author Jody Hedlund mixes in historical details without slowing down the plot. She uses an old word for diaper and details the kind of plant used for firewood. Social structure becomes apparent in the first few pages — something we just don't think about in modern times.

I'm glad I read this book after my draft is already fleshed out, because I don't want to take too much from someone else's creativity. But I certainly have more research to do. I've already got an idea of what my characters wore and what they grew in their fields, but I need to find out the correct words for those articles of clothing and what ingredients were in their favorite stew. The research has been challenging — I've used books about England because the social histories about Ireland are 100 years too late.

Jody wrote dialogue in mostly modern language, but threw in "Twas" every now and then. I will have to use "Thou" and "thee" in my novel because it was so important to and distinguishing for Quakers, but I worry about bogging down the dialogue. So I notice how other historical writers deal with early modern English.

Jody's incorporation of a relationship with God was different from the Christian historical I had recently read. Her style was subtler and more believable, but the growth still progressed for characters who already had faith.

Another aspect I noticed was villain development. Jody has two main villains in her story, who appear several times and create worse and worse situations. However, my wip is a lengthy saga and the crises in the real John Clibborn's life involved multiple bad guys over decades of time: an army captain here, a priest's tithemonger there, and so forth. I'm thinking of making John offend the tithemonger when he was a just a boy, so his hatred of him 20 years later won't come out of the blue — but that adds more scenes to an already lengthy story. I could combine some of these villains into one or two characters, but I'd like to stay as factual as possible. What to do?

If you know any other good books set in the mid-17th century, I would love to hear about them. Meanwhile, whether you're a writer or not, I recommend The Preacher's Bride. Enjoy.


Jody Hedlund said...

Wow!! Thank you for that incredible review, Elizabeth! I'm so glad that reading my book helped to give you some ideas for you books! Thank you so much for taking the time to write about my book! I appreciate it! :-)

Elizabeth said...

You're welcome, Jody. I enjoyed it. Good luck with your upcoming launch of The Doctor's Lady!

Anonymous said...

Let me suggest "Daughters of the Witching Hill" by Mary Sharratt; it's set a little earlier than your timeframe, in the 1620s, but it's solid historical fiction. It deals with the circumstances and backstory surrounding the Pendle Witches, but so much of what she details has less to do with what we think of as "witchcraft" than it does religious and economic conflict. Sharratt is very good at illustrating the conflict between the emerging Protestant churches and the traditional folk practices and Catholicism that remained a big part of people's lives — without sacrificing the plot.

Also, the way she incorporates historical details, from dress to speech to physical environment, is fabulous. After reading her book, I went back to my own work and realised there were things I could do to make my story better without sacrificing style or voice. I highly, highly recommend it (and I even have a copy if you'd like to borrow it!).

Elizabeth said...

Thanks for the recommendation @bookishmiss. (Yes, may I borrow it?)

Stephanie Ann said...

Good luck with your book. I always find that even with similar ideas, books can be very different. There are thousands of ways to tell the same story. I don't think you have to worry.