With all of the research (and marketing!) related travel I’ll be doing in 2016, I like looking back at some of my old blog posts where I have an ‘ah-ha’ moment. This one from 2013 illuminated the research needed to answer even simple questions about the past, in this instance a question about the bells at St. Michael’s Church. Though time-travel isn’t yet possible, traveling to historical places like beautiful Charleston, is great for opening up our eyes and changing our perspectives. I can’t wait to see what greatness 2016 will bring!
Writing anything is a process. Writing historical fiction seems to be a never-ending series of steps to ensure accuracy of the historical account. Many situations and ideas are obviously outside of the time period an author is writing about. For instance, since the story I’m writing is set in the late 1700s, there are no electrical devices, no phones or even telegraphs, and all the words associated with these technological advancements did not exist either. Believe me, I’ve had to search and replace words like “escalate” and “electrified.”
Other times, the occurrence is something so accepted in our current lives as having been around “forever” that the author, me in this instance, overlooks it entirely. This happened this week as I’m about to do another round of revisions to my historical romance manuscript I call Sunlight and Sacrifice. The opening scene includes the ringing of the bells at St. Michael’s Church in Charleston, South Carolina, indicating the time of day. It suddenly occurred to me that church bells didn’t always ring for the time, but rang to call the people to prayer or to a town meeting.
Now, I know that church bells chime or ring on the hour in most cities I’ve visited (I don’t live in a city). So when did that change? Was it as far back as the 1700s? I’ve done some preliminary searches on the internet but haven’t found a definitive answer to my question. I did find that church bells have been used for centuries to call people to pray, typically at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. I also found there is a distinction made between the bells ringing (i.e., using the wheel to swing the bells and thus ring them) and chiming (striking the bell). I found a lot of interesting history about bells, for that matter. The short and the long of it, though, is I can’t have the church bells ringing the hour in 1782 but I can have the bells ring to call the people to prayer. They were also used to celebrate special events and announce a person’s death.
So as I begin the next round of revisions, I’ll not only update the bell ringing historical references but also look out for other topics that I may have overlooked. This is all part of the challenge of writing historicals, though, and I do love a good challenge!
Have you ever identified an inaccuracy in a historical fiction book you’ve read? Or for that matter, in a contemporary? Did it change the experience of the story for you?
Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season! And may the bells ring in a prosperous and productive new year!