Writing Fiction in Different Time Periods

by Phyllis Zimbler Miller on August 29, 2015

Cogs in human brain

I’m having somewhat of an out-of-body experience these days. I’m working on several fiction projects simultaneously and the different time periods are potential traps for inaccurate depictions.

First, I’m updating a manuscript of a Rebecca Stone cozy mystery SINK LIKE A STONE — sequel to CAST THE FIRST STONE. I’m having to remind myself to update actions that now in 2015 are done by texting and other digital actions rather than by more outdated methods.

On the other hand, I’m writing the sci fi story THE UPHEAVAL, which takes place in 2029. In my attempt to be realistic about what the future might bring, I’m reading tech articles about potential discoveries.

For example, the August 28th Wall Street Journal article by Gordon Lubold “Pursuing Electronics that Bend, Pentagon Advances Partnership with Tech Firms: Defense Secretary Ash Carter to announce program to develop flexible devices with Silicon Valley companies” made me consider if this news could affect the actions of any of my characters in 2029.

Of course, THE UPHEAVAL is more complicated because it is the prequel of my 2049 sci fi dystopian story THE MOTHER SIEGE. I have to balance which futuristic elements in THE MOTHER SIEGE can actually be introduced in THE UPHEAVAL and which have to wait a few fictional years before making their appearance “on stage.”

Then I have to remember to be careful when working on my fantasy story ROAD TO ZANICA, which while fantasy has elements of the Medieval time period and there are no flush toilets!

Screenwriting vs. fiction writing

Another discrepancy that I have to keep in mind is POV (Point-of-View) — whose head are we in?

In fiction writing these days there is a definite preference for POV characters, and thus readers can only know the internal thoughts of whichever POV character is “on stage&dquo; at the moment. This is in contrast to an omniscient (all-knowing) POV where the reader can know every character’s thoughts from paragraph to paragraph.

In screenwriting it is the opposite — there is virtually no POV.

With the exception of the rare times when characters speak to themselves, the audience has no way of knowing the characters’ internal thoughts. These thoughts must be revealed through dialogue or action. (Older films frequently relied on a character lighting a cigarette to show anxiety.)

Thus when adapting fiction writing to screenplay format, as I am doing simultaneously while writing THE UPHEAVAL, I have to be careful not to confuse the two different POV requirements. I have to remember that, although there is no POV in the script. I have to be careful of character POV in the story.

In conclusion
, what all of this comes down to is creating a pleasurable entertainment experience for the reader or viewer. We have to be careful not to jar readers or viewers out of a story world because protagonists say or do something that doesn’t fit within the time period of the story (or the format of the fiction).

And after all, Medieval knights and their ladies did not have Apple watches.

© 2015 Miller Mosaic LLC

Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks, including HOW TO SUCCEED IN HIGH SCHOOL AND PREP FOR COLLEGE and the romantic suspense spy thriller CIA FALL GUY, as well as books not yet published. She can be reached at pzmiller@gmail.com

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