Setting a story back in time

I’m in a bit of a silly situation. I’m maybe 50% done with a story about a baseball pitcher I fell in love with recently. The issue is that… his playing years were 1900-1916. I originally decided, oh, whatever, I’ll just set the story back then, but I didn’t realize how hard it’d be… I definitely am having the thought of just rewriting history and making him a modern pitcher, but then I don’t know how his personality then translates to now… point is, has anyone here ever written a story taking place in the past? And if so, was it difficult to “get right”?

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I started on one a long time ago, but lost interest in it. It’s something I’d like to do more of in the future, but you’re absolutely right: it’s hard (and not in the fun way).

You have to (or at least might want to) consider what technologies were available, language usage, historical events (including world, regional, and the character’s life events), etc.

It’s a lot like putting something in a setting you’re not used to (like writing the prison chapters for Web of Trust, in my case). Except that in the case of a historical story, you don’t just have to research the setting, you have to research damned near everything about the story.

TL; DR: Yes, it’s extremely difficult to get it right!

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Yeah. I’ve had basically the same experience as you. You have to do a lot more actual research for the story than you would for any other stories. I think the furthest I’ve ever gone for a story before is scrolling through an athlete’s twitter page, but now, I’m looking up slang terms and salary caps and everything. It’s a lot more work than I thought it’d be. Plus, it’s really easy to sort of fib your way around the daily lives of professional athletes nowadays, since odds are no one on the site is a professional athlete, but if you’ve got a character in a story set in 1905 using modern slang or picking up a telephone, there’s no way anyone won’t notice.

I’m definitely going to finish the thing, though, I think. I’ve really got an infatuation for the guy, and personally I can only really get that stuff “out” by writing. Plus, I like the plot I’ve created. It’s very cruel (I am myself, after all) but I’m having too much fun with it to let it go by the wayside. Odds are I won’t do another “historical” story though, lol

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Have you read M. Greene’s Earth to Earth? He does a great job with historical fiction and can be an example of how to write your story. I would start just working on the baseball of the day and then build the world out. But it sounds like an interesting story; it will take some research but don’t give up on your story just yet.

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@New_Guy_in_Town

Thank you for the encouraging words! It means a lot to me. I haven’t read Earth to Earth, but I’ll check it out.

It’s funny: the reason I thought it’d be pretty easy was because I know a lot about baseball between, I guess 1890, and 1920. It’s just… I don’t know much about anything else… and I can’t convincingly fib it. But trust me, it’ll get written. Will everyone like it… no way. It’s really unecessarily cruel to the poor guy. That’s how I like it, but it’s not for everyone.

I’ve just seen this thread. Do not worry too much about the way historical characters speak. In my opinion, and that of many much more famous writers of historical stories than myself, it is not necessary to replicate the speech of the period. For a start, readers probably won’t understand it. In the story I wrote mentioned above, Otto, a German peasant, says ‘fuck’ all the time. It’s his favourite word. I have no idea what a peasant of that time would actually have said, but they would have had their equivalent of the word. The point is that Otto is quite crude and uncouth. So speech is easy - just avoid using obvious anachronisms [for example, Otto would not reference any object outside his time period]. It is fairly easy to check if something existed in 1905 by looking it up online. For example, the telephone you mention would be okay, but at the time would have been a rare luxury of the rich. It is also fairly easy to research clothes of the time - pictures of costumes are easily found online. Good luck with your work!

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@mgreene70

First of all, thank you so much for your response. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me advice. It means a lot to me.

I am making some attempt to replicate speech from the time, but only vaguely. The kind of speech I’m going for is - it’s appropriate for 1905 (the year the story is set in), but it wouldn’t be out of place in 2020 either. I’m trying to find a good balance. I could go full 1905, but I’m not going to. That would sound too silly and forced. Plus, I don’t know what euphemism they used back then for “sucking cock.” Lol.

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They probably said ‘sucking cock’ - LOL! But you are right - they might have used a euphemism. Music Hall / Vaudeville songs of the period were packed full of euphemisms for sex. However, these might confuse your readers. Best to stick to plain words in my opinion.

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PS: If you want, you could send me your story and I will have a look through it for anything that does not fit with the period you have chosen. Just send it to my email address: mgreene70@yahoo.com

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That is extremely kind of you, and I truly appreciate it. I’ll likely do that when I’m done (which I think will be soon). I really, really appreciate it.

By the way, I read Earth to Earth and I thought it was fantastic. Some of the best writing I’ve read on the site.

It might not be perfect, but maybe a good middle ground is to talk like you here the elderly around you talk. When you picture an 80-year-old saying “That’s totally awesome!”, it really doesn’t fit. Words like “wonderful” or “fantastic” fit better.

As far as sexual terms go, try The Online Slang Dictionary. It doesn’t list the dates when words became common, but probably doing a quick Google on words that have an “older sound” to them will give you some indication.

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That’s basically what I’m doing, lol. Or at least, something close to it. I’m just using my best judgement, making it sound possibly accurate without sounding stiff and weird. As far as slang goes, I’m using a few slang terms, but only once or twice. I don’t want to overuse strange slang - I want it to sound “natural.”

It’s no problem firesix - happy to help. Glad you enjoyed Earth to Earth, which, to my shame, I still have not completed. One thing about the US in 1905 is that men smoked cigars, pipes of cigarettes or chewed tobacco. They also spat everywhere. Not particularly savoury but sadly true. In my story ‘The Restoration’ which is set in the 1940s, I had to include smoking even though I’m not particularly keen on it myself.

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