Sunday, November 24, 2013

Explore Your Superpowers Through Historical Fiction.

Humans have always loved the idea of superpowers. The desire to fly has been around for a long time and is explored in the story of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun.

If I could have one superpower I would choose the ability to time travel. If I could choose a secondary power I would be invisible. 


Because I'm interested in the way people think and act, and I'm curious to explore how we've evolved over time--if we really have. These superpowers would allow me to drop into private conversations, hang-out behind the scenes, notice how ordinary people lived and eavesdrop on the powerful. I don't care much about wars and politics--events that have been documented.  I'm interested in every day life and the roles women have played throughout history. That's why I enjoy writing historical fiction. And that's why most of my characters are not famous, documented people, but characters who grow out of possible situations. I also enjoy a tight story, so I lean to suspense. 

I found history in school dull, because it focused on war and politics. I got into history through acting. Part of exploring a role involves learning about time and place. For example, playing the Duchess in The Duchess of Malfi  by John Webster (writing in the 1600s), I needed to explore life during the Renaissance. This made the world of the play come alive for me.

 I became interested in ancient Greece when I read plays by Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles. One  of my favorite characters is Electra.Electra convinced her brother, Orestes, to seek revenge for the murder of their father. The play made me think about father-daughter relationships in ancient times, infidelity, the role women played. beliefs about the afterlife, religious beliefs. The Greek plays made mythology and the ancient world come alive for me. I became interested in philosophy and was amazed to discover that the thinkers of that time (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and many others) still wield great influence on how western society views the world. 

Taking on a role is a form of time travel--you submerge yourself in a different time and place, ask yourself questions like: what did I have for breakfast today, how do I style my hair, what are the social norms, how am I breaking them--because, of course, the most interesting characters always come up against the boundaries of society. 

Writing historical novels takes this process a step further. As I writer, I get to play all of the characters. I rest my brain (or torture it) in the minds of kings, queens, slaves, prostitutes, serfs, merchants, sailors--anyone I choose. If that's not superpower, what is?

I invite you to play with time travel. Ask yourself, what would I be eating if I were in ancient Rome? What steps would I have to go through to take a bath in the 1700s (or would I bother)? How would I walk if this were Imperial China and my feet were bound and broken for the sake of beauty? What would be the remedy for arthritis, monthly cramps, a brain tumor (whatever you might suffer from) if I lived in ancient Egypt? England in the 1200s? (Ancient Egyptian medicine was far more advanced, by the way.) It's a fun game! And it's made me appreciate many things about my current, high tech life.

How do you play out your superpowers?


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