Like a Virgin

Posted: August 17, 2016 in Writing
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In just the last few hundred words of our work in progress, THE LAST FAERIE GODMOTHER, my daughter and I moved our heroes and our story from modern day America (with fairy-tale creatures) to Northern Ireland in 1507 (chock full of faeries).

From a writer’s standpoint, this is like waking up on Mars.  Without a spacesuit.

How did people talk?  I don’t mean just how to write an Irish accent, but what words do they use?  Many, many turns of phrase we take for granted when writing modern dialogue didn’t exist 500 years ago.  And things had different names.  Not to mention, they had an entire vocabulary of words for objects and activities that no longer exist today.  They had different greetings, different common expressions, different superstitions.  And they surely talked about other things than we do today.

What did people wear?  Believe it or not, there are not a great deal of books with pictures or descriptions of what average people wore in Ireland in the 16th century.  I know; I’ve looked.  I can tell you what nobility or soldiers wore in England in the early 16th century, but that doesn’t quite work, does it?  I’ve read that the Irish of that time wore yellow, since the association of green with Ireland is a much more modern occurrence.  But I need slightly more detail to describe what my characters are wearing than “yellow.”

What did they eat?  What was their daily routine?  How did they travel?  Where did they sleep?  How did they treat strangers?  What did a house look like?  A castle?  A dungeon?  What did they buy and what did they make themselves?  Where did they get money?  What did a market look like?

I was so excited when we finally got to this much-anticipated point in our book.  This is the “inciting incident” that sets up the whole rest of the book, in which our heroes must pass for natives and figure out a way to get home to the present.  But as my fingers hovered over the keys, itching to write the next scene, I found I could not make them type.  I don’t know where I am!  I can’t describe anything, write any dialogue, or even understand what my characters should see upon waking up.

Gah!  It’s like being a virgin writer all over again, except without the benefit of that cocky naivete that lets you just bully your way through a story despite your utter ignorance.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: virginity [in a writer] is overrated.

  1. smnystoriak says:

    I enjoyed this post! I think many of us can relate! Good luck researching it all!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. John, as a novice novelist myself, I hope I’m not sounding know-it-all-ish to offer a suggestion: just write the first draft without worrying about all that stuff. Use today’s language and whatever clothes you easily imagine they might have worn, without regard to accuracy. You can always fix all that later, in draft 2, 3, 4, etc. The most important thing (which of course you know, but it bears repeating) is to get the story written, any way, any how.

    And include lots of action, like those first 250 words of this book I read many months ago. Kids love that!

    Best of luck, John, I read your blog religiously and always learn something!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much, Michael. Problem is, I have a very dominant perfectionist streak, and I have real difficulty moving on to the next thing if the last thing is full of holes. I suppose I should work on that.


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