Accurately Capturing the Past

Most of my recent writing takes place at least ten to sixty years ago. A dilemma for me and I suspect other writers, is how to acurately capture the look and feel of the times we are writing about. For example, consider mobile phones. They didn’t come into widespread use until after 2007 when longer range 3G networks and improved battey life made regular use of these handheld devices practical. So if I’m writing a story about a teenager from a lower middle class home whose borrowed car breaks down on the way home from the prom in 2005, it’s unlikely he would pull out a cell phone to call Mom and Dad for help. If I do choose to use that technology, I run the risk of alienating my readers by raising questions about the authenticity of my writing. So I make it a point to research the settings, slang and speech patterns, period clothing and dress, and everyday artifacts in common use, relying on newspaper clippings, letters, diaries, as well as novels from the same era by other writers. Another good source is converations with folks who lived during that time frame. The best source, of course, is drawn from personnal memory. Here is an example I wrote yesterday of a twelve year old recalling his grandparents home in Dorchester: My grandparents and two great aunts moved a few years ago from their home of almost forty years in Dorchester to a two-family house in Hyde Park where they rented the bottom floor. The change in house style was dramatic – from their former home, rich in architectural detail including two ornate circular verandas facing the street to their current modest-sized box of a house that looked pretty plain and was identical to all of the other houses around it. The inside of their apartment still hosted much of their drab olive-green overstuffed furniture, which also included a mahogany rocker with arms worn white with age along the edges and a corner chair with dark twisting spindles and very cool claw feet. A chiming grandfather clock and a sloping top mantle clock competed for attention by interrupting conversations at regular intervals. Sitting on shelves and tables were assorted ceramic and lethal-looking lead crystal vases. Many of the walls were adorned with darkly moody religious pictures filled with pain and agony. Those I religiously tried to avoid looking at. The floors were covered with a bewildering assortment of heavily detailed oriental carpets, many with serious wear patterns. When my great aunt Aggie opened the front door to greet me, I was reminded by the rush of aroma that all the old smells of Lindsey Street had made the move safely along with its occupants. I’d love to hear what you use to insure the authenticity of your writing.

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