One of the panels I attended at #YALLFEST was Moat By Moat: World Building in Historical Fiction, moderated by Libba Bray. Rae Carson, who I already talked about above was also a part of this panel.
A bit about the authors:
Gail Carriger– Is awesome! She’s a former archeologist who wrote The Parisole Protectorate series, The Custard Protocol series, and my personal favorite, her young adult Finishing School series. I wouldn’t have considered her series to be historical fiction though. She writes supernatural, alternate history, steampunk. The books are comedies so she noted frequently that people forgive her a lot in comparison to other more serious and actually historic setting driven stories. She did sign my book, but she was on her way out the door when she signed it, so I didn’t have the nerve to ask her to sign my notebook. Loved her outfit, she really dresses up like the characters in her novel.
Elizabeth Wein wrote the Code Name: Verity series, The Lion Hunters series, and Black Dove, White Raven. I haven’t read her books, but she reminded me a lot of me when she talked about her childhood. The clapping game she and her friend made up for Hamlet’s Soliloquy stole the show. I have a video, but you really have to have been there to fully understand the hilarity.
Ryan Graudin writes alternate history with a supernatural bent, mostly focusing on “What if Hitler had won.” Her books include All that Glows, Wolf by Wolf, and the Walled City. She’s another author I haven’t read, but she’s definitely been added to my TBR pile.
Carol Weatherford is prolific and probably the most famous author on the panel. She’s written more books than I can list here. A few of her works include Becoming Billie Holiday, The Library Ghost, and Jazz Baby.
The First question Libba asked was where do the authors begin their world building process. Most of the authors agreed finding the voice of the protagonist was their first step. Once they have a protagonist in mind, the setting, a very specific setting, complete with atmosphere, came next. Gail Carriger said most of her stories begin by her “overhearing” snippets of dialogue between two characters, and before she knows it, the rest of the story fills in. Rae Carson mentioned that one thing that really helps her is establishing limits, what they can’t say, what they can’t do, where they can’t go, whereas Elizabeth Wein said she tends to annotate places that need more research as she goes along, and cautioned that sometimes research makes you procrastinate.
I can definitely believe that. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of research, but I’ve also been in situations where I literally can’t write another word until I fill in those details. So I’d say it’s a mixed bag. One acknowledgement I was happy they made is that contemporary settings demand just as much research and world building as historical fiction, at least initially. The authors talked about how they tied personal experience in with their work, even if historically they can’t relate, there’s always a universal experience.
One thing Ryan Graudin and Gail Carriger elaborated on was the juxtaposition of light and dark, of humor and sadness, to echo each other and really bring each other out.
Some of the sins of worldbuilding they agreed on were…
— Sugar Coating
— Forgetting the other senses
Some other tips they offered were to ignore linguistics until line edits (though they also mentioned no recognizable English would have been spoken in many of their settings, so remember you can take liberties). N-grams Google will tell you when a particular phrase originated.
I found the panel to be very entertaining and informative, even though I don’t write historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction though! One day I may delve a bit into the Trojan War, but for now, I’m happy in my contemporary zone.