Posted by: Matt Q. McGovern | May 22, 2013

Time warp for your characters.

The thought of getting more insight into my characters by letting them live/act it out in a scene of their own has been on my mind.  During a previous blog post I had mentioned that a good support project would be to rewrite an existing scene (or create an entirely new scene) in another genre.  I wondered recently how some of my characters would fare in another time setting, and it also occurred to me that figuring that out would be necessary for changing it to some genres.  So, this exercise is to do a little fun analysis of an existing scene set in today’s setting, and see how I might switch it to another time setting.

Wondering about the genre I’m thinking of is not something I want to concern myself with right now, because I think I would go too far with research and not get any writing done (that never happened before) Winking smile.  Instead, I just want to do the time warp, and see how far I get.  Besides, there’s definitely enough work to do in revision to get the setting right.  Readers tend to appreciate it whether they’re an expert at the time period or they just really fancy the escape you’re giving them.  In other words, you’re coming back anyway so don’t concern yourself with all the details now.

Ok, the first thing in this little analysis is the time period we’re going to, and then figuring out what needs to be translated.  For example, going from the modern time to…say, right before the Revolutionary War.  What are the conflicts involved in the neighborhood of your characters?  Who’s side is everybody on (only about as simple an answer as politics is today), does this neighborhood have enough food for the winter, who are the home-makers and what do they do to provide, are there vampires and creepy crawlies and will they choose sides in the upcoming war, etc. 

If my characters’ families stay on the side of the Crown but feel sympathy for the Colonists (rebels, rebellion, etc.—SteamPunk and many genres LOVE this), it may be more of a challenge to provide food because of their sources for food, etc.  A paranormal type of entity might be league with the Colonists for other reasons, and may be able to provide food through a hard winter, but allying yourself with them may have other costs.  Conflicts are showing themselves and providing storyline.

Getting into the characters themselves, I see a major translation in the fact that my protagonist is goth.   Goth has a number of characteristics that have to be represented.  The music my character is interested in would be decidedly less mainstream, and more leaning towards both a much older classical type as well as a newer, more rebellious type.  Given that there would be no MP3 players or CDs to listen to, I’m sure this character would flock to a live performance of a more personal nature.  It would be very important to me to find out what people did for music on a personal level to see how my characters (goth or not) would represent this part of themselves.

Another major characteristic to be looked at is reading.  At that time books would be more scarce.  I see my protagonist being really good friends to the person that can give them interesting sources of reading.

How about the computer?  How about anything that we rely on technologically?  The alarm clock in the morning is probably a rooster, which immediately makes me wonder how many households were farms out of necessity.  What did each household have throughout the seasons of the year?  Even though it seems easy to note the ways people did things back then, I think it’s important to list how your characters would do them, at least in terms of who has what chores, etc.  Once you have that, you can now decide to add some parts of the modern world to the older setting, depending on how far you want to go. 

If you’re heading into a steampunk direction, then you need to spend some time on this so you decide what you want to have and how it’s handled.  How does my character text her friends, and what role does my character and friends play in the technology that’s involved, however it’s involved?  This is very important, and even better if you can join the theme of rebelliousness (or whatever cause your characters are following) with the technology you invent for the time period.  Today, we use technology and take it for granted.  In a former time period that would most definitely not be the case, and it makes for a good story.

Of course, you can have plenty of fun just putting your scene in a former time period without adding any technology, like steampunk would do, etc.  The objective is to let your characters act out their lives in another time period and accompanying setting, and you may very well find that you have a whole new story on your hands.

Happy writing, and happy time warping!

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