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davidthompson
08-30-2006, 04:37 AM
I'm afraid the only answer is "just do it quickly, get it over with and go on," but maybe there's a better way. :)

In my first person historical novel, most things become clear from context, but there are a few scattered times when the narrator needs to explain something only because I know he's writing for a modern audience. In his world, everyone would know what the people are talking about. It seems like I'm forcing him to say something he wouldn't, like writing in a contemporary novel, "we went to McDonald's, which is a fast-service hamburger restaurant."

Here are a couple examples. I've put in bold what's only for the benefit of modern people. Is there a better way to handle it? The setting is 1856 Ohio USA.


[Simon has had a head injury.] Simon stood at the mirror in the dining room, tugging his hair around, trying to cover where the doctor had shaved. "I look like I just got out of prison," he said, and he did, too, because convicts had their head shaved on one side.


[Gil is sympathizing with a U.S. deputy marshall who's been complaining about his job.] "It's hard work, that's a fact," Gil said. "If you're going to work for the government, Casey, don't be a marshall. You need to get a safe job, where a fellow don't get beat up, like senator."

They both laughed. He was talking about the senator who just got caned at his desk in Washington.

TheIT
08-30-2006, 04:51 AM
In both your examples, I can see the information being given through dialog or internal monologue. If you choose dialog, confrontation usually works to avoid the dreaded infodump.

In the first example, let's assume Simon's wife Jane is also present:

"Jane, do you see what that doctor did to my head?" said Simon as he tugged on his hair. "I look like one of those prisoners from <insert prison name>."
"Now, dear, it's not so bad," said Jane.
"Not so bad? He chopped off half my hair. You expect me to walk down the street like this? Everyone I meet will think I'm an escaped murderer. They'll be hunting me down with pitchforks."
"Well, perhaps we can shave the other side of your head to match."

JenNipps
08-30-2006, 04:58 AM
I think you're looking at a case of show vs. tell. TheIT gave a pretty good example in her response.

Welcome to the Historical board.

TheIT
08-30-2006, 05:03 AM
As for the second example, I'd suggest continuing the conversation and explain after they laugh at the joke:

[Gil is sympathizing with a U.S. deputy marshall who's been complaining about his job.] "It's hard work, that's a fact," Gil said. "If you're going to work for the government, Casey, don't be a marshall. You need to get a safe job, where a fellow don't get beat up, like senator."

They both laughed.

"Now, Gil," said Casey. "Don't you think Senator <name> deserved what he got?"

or

"At least as a marshall I'm armed when they come and get me," said Casey. "You think Senator <name> was when they went after him at his desk?"

Not the best examples, but both could lead into more discussion of the incident. Just try to avoid infodumps and "As you know, Bob" dialog.

pdr
08-30-2006, 06:06 AM
Nope, don't ever tell your reader. You've plenty of scope in both your examples for including the information smoothly and naturally.

Carmy
09-01-2006, 07:25 AM
I think most readers of historical novels already know a great deal and they are interested in history. Do us the courtesy of believing we know a fair amount about the past, i.e., don't write down to us.

Good luck with your novel. I'm always happy to find a new author who writes historicals.

Carmy

rtilryarms
09-01-2006, 01:21 PM
I think most readers of historical novels already know a great deal and they are interested in history. Do us the courtesy of believing we know a fair amount about the past, i.e., don't write down to us.

Good luck with your novel. I'm always happy to find a new author who writes historicals.

Carmy

That might not be a fair asumption. As an example, I am a lifelong history buff but I had no idea that prisoners were shaved on the side of the head. Maybe it was a certain state or city and the book sets it up.

As much of a nut that I am, I do not read much history on what I already know, I look for new information and perspective.
Historical fiction can have many unique angles using the same information.

I wish they still caned senators.

dclary
09-01-2006, 07:12 PM
Actually, the first one I'd just drop everything after he says "I look like I just got out of prison." Saying that's enough, I think.

For the second, maybe something like:

"You need to get a safe job, where a fellow don't get beat up."

"Like Senator Blahbah," Casey filled in.

"Yeah. Got himself caned in Washington. And for what?" Gil asked.

"What?"

Gil's face had turned to stone. "Nothing."