Katherine M. Lawrence on Constructing Medieval Japan for a Novel

Today, Katherine M. Lawrence blogged about the challenges of writing historical fiction.

NAMAHAGE—Fire Rash Peeling

The demons knock at your door.

Constructing a compelling world with consistent rules is one of the challenges (and fun) of writing my Pillow Book of a Samurai series—Japan in 1175 C.E.

People in Medieval times did not regard themselves as Medieval. They were as modern as it got–even if it was the year 1200.

The challenge for the author who is recreating a world in an historic time period is that the author knows too much—about 840 years too much, in my case, and some of the stuff that happened 700 years ago, though it may seem old to those of our period, would not have existed 800 years ago.

To be sure, things did not progress explosively as they have in the last several hundred years—especially since the Industrial Revolution. Yet, certain things only developed in certain ages.

Introducing the reader to an unfamiliar constructed world takes patience, care, and research.

Patience in the sense of revealing it a little at a time—not as exposition, drowning with a fire hose of setup.

Care in how the information is revealed—revealing it from the characters’ point of view, avoiding a break in the narration in the sense of a voice-over.

Research in going through historic record as well as delving into history and anthropology books to get a sense of how things worked—to unlearn the prejudices we have accumulated over time—in my case, the sometimes vivid images of Japan in an age of warriors.

More: Constructing Medieval Japan for a Novel.