Today, I’m excited to be featuring an exclusive guest post as part of the blog tour for The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas, an exciting new historical fiction novel that is in stores now! Here’s more about it:
Florence Italy, 1574; Chiara Nerini, the troubled daughter of an anti-Medici bookseller, sets out to save her starving family by selling her dead father’s rare alchemical equipment to the prince. Instead she is trapped in his household—imprisoned and forcibly initiated as a virgin acolyte in Francesco’s quest for power and immortality. Undaunted, she seizes her chance to pursue undreamed-of power of her own.
The court of Francesco de Medici, his rise to power and mysterious death, has fascinated historians for centuries. Loupas gives a fresh interpretation of the royal intrigue and power-hungry characters that ruled Italy while weaving a compelling story that “Effortlessly evokes the dangerous glamour of Renaissance Italy…” (The Chicago Tribune)
Sounds awesome, right? Today, Elizabeth stops by with a guest post about what life would be like in 16th-century Florence for her character, Chiara, growing up. Keep reading below for your chance to win a copy of The Red Lily Crown,too!
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“It’s a Long Story…”
By Elizabeth Loupas
One tricky thing about world-building in historical fiction is that your world is, well, historical. Certain things happened on certain dates. As an author you have all kinds of latitude in working out why people might have done things, what their private thoughts were, what motivated them, what happened behind the scenes—and that’s the wonderful thing about historical fiction, really—but when it comes to dates, you’re pretty well stuck.
In my first book, the whole story happened over the course of about three and a half months. Easy to keep up the pace and the suspense without skipping over any time. My second book, although not much longer in word count, covered a little over five years. A longer timeline, but still manageable.
When I started on my third book, though, I found myself facing a timeline of fifteen years. There was no way I could show everything that happened in fifteen years! And I couldn’t pick a shorter capsule of time because if I did, I would lose some of the dramatic and exciting historical events that I wanted to incorporate into the story. This time I had to plan much more carefully in order to maintain the pace and the suspense over the much longer timeline.
(As an aside, this challenge of telling a story that covers a long period of time isn’t exclusive to historical fiction. A writer can have any number of reasons for needing or wanting a story to start here and end there, in any kind of setting.)
So what did I do?
Well, first of all I had to start with my main character young—fifteen years old. Of course, in the Florence of the sixteenth century Medici, fifteen wasn’t quite as young as it is today. Fifteen-year-old girls were routinely married off, sometimes to much older men, in a way that would make us shudder with distaste today. My fifteen-year-old heroine wasn’t married off—in fact, she was coerced into taking a vow of virginity—but for all her youth she was able to interact with other characters more or less as an adult. The story was off to a good start.
An important thing to do when you’re skipping over weeks or months or even years of time, is to use date-and-place headers at the beginnings of chapters, particularly chapters that mark a jump forward. I think readers subconsciously think, “oh, we’re skipping forward a bit,” when they see a new date heading to a chapter. Instead of a specific date, sometimes I would head a chapter with something like, “The silver mine at Bottino, northwest of Florence—Ten days later.”
Another technique I used to skip over the less-than-thrilling periods in my timeline was setting up the story in sections—“books”—with each book focused on a different female character in the story. This gave me a smooth way to skip forward to events featuring that character, and move on to another book when that character’s main story arc ended or changed. When I needed to skip over a year or more, starting a new “book” within the book was a way to help readers acclimate to the change.
If you’re going to skip over chunks of time, you do have to fill the reader in a bit on what’s been going on. My favorite way to do this was to start a chapter with action and/or dialogue in the new time, just enough to get the reader well-ground. Then I used a stream-of-consciousness-style narration (yes, telling—but telling does have its place sometimes) to fill in the gaps and bring the reader up to date. Although the story is told in third-person points of view, I worked to weave definite “voice” into these narrations, so not only does the reader learn what’s happened, but what the point-of-view character thinks about it. They turned out to be fun to write, as well as a way to smooth the time transitions.
Another challenge when writing a story that takes place over a significant span of time is showing how your characters change. No one stays the same over fifteen years! My fifteen-year-old main character starts out as a defiant and deeply troubled shopkeeper’s daughter, and as the story continues and she matures, she passes through several stages: a prideful and materialistic young woman on the fringes of the court, a wounded and terrified casualty of power politics, a focused professional in the alchemical science of the day, and ultimately a strong woman capable of trust, self-sacrifice, and great love. The other characters in the book change as well—some for the better, some for the worse, just as people do in real life.
It was a considerable challenge to map out my story over a fifteen-year time span, and many times I banged my head against my desk and swore I’d never do it again. But for all the technical difficulties, it was worth it—it offered wonderful scope for richness of story and characterization.
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You can visit Elizabeth’s website to learn more about The Red Lily Crown and her other books!
Meanwhile, we’re giving away one copy of The Red Lily Crown — and all you have to do is check out this Rafflecopter for all the entry details.
Entries are limited to U.S. only. Contest is open through April 15th.
For the comments: Tell us why you want to read The Red Lily Crown.
It sounds like a wonderful story and meticulously planned as well. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I really enjoyed the insight.
FYI: It appears that the link to the rafflecopter is broken. I can’t get there.
Oops, never mind, it just worked.
I JUST fixed it – it should be working now!
Thanks Sara, see below.
But there is no space for leaving a mailing address and the rest of the form is closed till that’s filled out.
Aack, sorry! Apparently I need more coffee before making Rafflecopter forms today … it SHOULD be fixed for real this time!
Thanks Sarawithoutanh, look at those entries pour in!
I’m looking forward to reading TRLC, because I so recently struggled through writing a book with the same problem–how do you cover so many years and maintain your narrative thread. I love the idea of “books” within the larger scope of the novel as a way to encapsulate important moments in a long timeline. And of course, date/time “stamps” are so important. For example, one of my favorite historicals, The King’s Grey Mare, still drives me mad with the way the narrative jumps forward sometimes years with nothing more than a paragraph break!
Elizabeth, thanks so much for sharing how you handle writing with a long timeline. I’m also writing a novel that takes place over a long period of time, so I gleaned some very useful ideas from this!
Great post, Elizabeth! Congratulations on your release! I’m looking forward to reading this one. 🙂
Great advice, Elizabeth. I’m really looking forward to reading The Red Lily Crown! Congrats on your new release!
I am greatly looking forward to reading The Red Lily Crown because I love historical fiction. The characters, time period, setting, and summary of the book all tell me it will be a story right in my line of interest. Congratulations on your release!