Making History 3-D

History can be a turn-off when it focuses only on dry facts, just like science is more than formulas and chemical compounds. Science matters when you walk through environmental disasters or live through a pandemic. So, too, history becomes more than dates of wars, lists of treaties or studies of revised maps when you walk through historical landscapes and meet characters who share the same human frailties we all experience. Through the power of imagination, readers experience sensory detail and emotion which allows them to have a visceral experience. 

Here is a list of ways that the power of fiction can merge the past into the present:

Field trips. Visit the scenes of massacres, of battles, of boat crossings. For example, I cycled down forest paths that my 1945 refugees would have travelled in Crow Stone. I walked the beaches of Tainted Amber.

Cycling in Kaliningrad Oblast
BIG Maps. There’s nothing like a visual map to pinpoint the scenes of a story. If the book doesn’t have a map, find one. Mark the places the novel’s characters are traveling. In Crow Stone there’s a map included, but don’t hesitate to find other maps.

SMALL Maps. How about visualizing the little places? A map of the house, of the bedroom, of the barrack? 

Photographs/drawings. A picture says a thousand words. But don't forget to ask, who was taking that picture? Why? What happened before or after the photo was taken? Where was the photo taken? Why does this particular photo matter? Who's not in the photo?

Recipes. One thing all humans, past and present, have in common is the need for food. Find out what food was available in those years and experiment with the ingredients. Did they drink tea or coffee? Soft drinks? 

Königsberge Klopse in Kaliningrad

. Musical tastes might change but music is always part of the human experience … whether to celebrate or to mourn. Find what would be part of the historical narrative for a particular book.

Clothes. We might get our clothes from an online retailer, local mall or thrift shop. But where did historical characters get their clothes? What were they wearing? How did they care for them?

Ambition. Many of us aspire to have careers, houses, children, cars, to travel or volunteer, to learn new languages or run a marathon. What sorts of ambitions would the characters in historical fiction be striving towards?

This is just a brief sampling of the ways that history can become livelier for readers. Some might call it research, I like to call it developing empathy.  One day, our lives today will also be history. Hopefully, no one will remember our lives as dull or boring. After all,  we too are living in historical times.

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