Finding Your Historical Voice (continued)

As soon as I knew what I was going to write about, I began with setting, for I instinctively knew that everything has to happen somewhere. The locale I would write about was, of course, the valley that is home to me.

I love our mountains. I love the canyons, cut between hills that seem to roll over upon themselves like bread dough being kneaded. I love the smell of sage, manzanita, yucca, and wild lilac. I love  the way morning mist plays over those warm springs that still exist in large numbers beneath the surface of the earth. I love it when winter rains swell the creeks where I waded as a child. I love the sycamores with their spotted, twisted trunks and big leaves that rustle in the wind. And I love the north wind — the Santana –that arrives with a lusty howl and makes the air so clear that I can reach out and trace the mountain shadows with my fingertips.

So did Emmy, my thirteen-year-old heroine. She loved it all as much as I did. I let her live on an island in Lytle Creek, much as my own great-grandmother had lived. I let threatening flood waters pour down the canyon. I sat with her as she picked flowers in the sunshine. I felt her sorrows and her gladness. 

Other characters, however, had different feelings about the place they lived. Tawny Crawford, the villainous character from Straight Along a Crooked Road, who was removed from the wagon train, only to appear again on the lawless streets of early San Bernardino, saw the valley as a chance to become powerful. Moss Murphy, a mountain man I had become fond of, saw it as a haven for himself and his Indian wife. Luanna, Emmy’s sister and the heroine of book one, found that the valley was the happy end of her journey.

After I decided who was going to be in the book, I did what all good authors do. I sat back and listened. I wrote pages of description, narrative, and dialogue, and I listened some more.  At last I heard my characters speak in their own voices. This is what finding your historical voice is all about — feeling the way into your characters and discovering how different they all sound.

There is no one single historical voice in a book — even though I felt closest to Emmy, my heroine, and heard her voice most often. There are many voices. A unique one for each character.

My characters respond strongly to the place — the setting in which they find themselves. It influences their actions, their decisions, their dreams. Sometimes I sit with my eyes closed, my fingers on the keyboard, and let them guide me.

If I write a third part to this series, it will be about character development in historical fiction. But for now, let the voices ring out!

Submitted by Marilyn Donahue


3 responses to “Finding Your Historical Voice (continued)

  1. Marilyn, I am almost finished with The Valley In Between. You transported me to early San Bernardino and rooted me there along with Emmie, Sally Sue and, yes, even that dastardly Tawny Crawford. I have heard the sounds, smelled the smells, and pulled for my favorites in the book. You do know of what you speak!


  2. Thanks, Gloria. This book was a joy to write. Sometimes I had a hard time getting away from my characters just so I could go to bed and get a night’s sleep. They seemed to be with me throughout!

  3. Shirley Shibley

    Marilyn, I’ve always loved your style of sense of setting and just the right amount and exquisite descriptions, but now I am reminded how you made each character have his/her own voice. I still have much to learn there. Thanks for pointing out these important tips.


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