Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Few settings cast a spell like the French court. The French Renaissance court, even for those who know little about it, exercises a charm that is hard to resist. Writing about how I created it as a setting is the subject of my blog post Getting to Setting in The Importance of Pawns M.K. Tod’s excellent blog, A Writer of History. I invite you to go there to read it. I show you how I incorporated historical details to make the French court setting realistic while keeping my focus on the story itself.
Tod wrote an excellent series earlier on the seven elements of historical fiction. Of course, setting is one, and for historical fiction, it is possibly the most important. The setting is often the element that draws readers to historical fiction.
The Spell of Learning
People want to feel they are learning something when they read fiction, rather than just reading ‘for pleasure’. So if I promise a French renaissance court setting, they want to learn something about the French court and its history during the 15th or 16th century. It is part of the implied contract. Yet though readers tell themselves this, the last thing they want to get is a lot of ‘boring history’ or the sense that the author is talking down to them or the characters telling them stuff, not really talking to each other.
The spell of the court first drew me to historical fiction. The French court seemed exotic, Yet, how often have you cringed when, for example, Pierre says to Jean, “Of course, Jean, my brrrrozzer, you remember that our fazzer left me the small properrrty of Les Vignes because ourrr mozzer said that since you are older than me I would need something to live on when you inherrrited the entire vicomté because of the rule of prrrimogeniture that is the law herrre in Frrrrrance?” This is not what you hope for when you seek the spell of the French court setting.
It isn’t just exaggerated spelling meant to reflect a stereotypically French accent. This seems like such a useful way to provide your reader with the necessary information quickly. Yet no one tells anyone what they already know unless it is a kid trying to get his kid brother very, very angry. And then the tone of voice gives it all away.
So while fact and accuracy are important, they are not enough to create the spell that will draw your reader into the fictional world. They must not be intrusive in fiction. Bottom line.
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