Jonelle Patrick
Jonelle Patrick asked Mary Mackey:

You've written books that take place all throughout history ( and pre-history!) How do you prepare yourself to write in the voices of characters who live in eras that were so different from our own?

Mary Mackey Great question! I had to really think about it for a minute. I think the honest answer is that I do a great deal of research on the period I'm writing about before I sit down to create my characters. I read like crazy: history, fiction, memoirs, anything I can get my hands on. I visit museums, look at drawings of fashions, consult old photographs, visit the locations of my novels.

All during this period, I am constantly trying to put myself in the minds and bodies of the characters I am about bring to life. What did they see? What did they think? What did they smell? How were they different than we are now? What did they believe that we don't believe?

No detail is too small; no detail is unimportant. Did 17th century women have trouble doing up the buttons on the backs of their dresses? Did they even have buttons?

I have long had it as a basic principle that I will not write a novel until I can imagine the main characters speaking to me. So often, I close my eyes and see if I can hear a dialogue taking place between us: "Who are you?" I ask. "What do you want?" "Is this plot I've come up with going to work for us?" "Do you have any suggestions?"

Once I can hear the characters, I have some final decisions to make: will I have them speak in the language of their own era (say 19th century) or will I make the language more contemporary for the benefit of contemporary reader? Usually, I end up compromising by taking the stiffness out of their sentences but still using words from the specific period.

I try to remind myself that people speaking to one another in any era hear what they are saying as normal conversation. The stiffness or strangeness we may perceive, is an effect of the time that has passed between us and them. They might have said: "Thy breech is foule be-torne;" but what they were actually hearing is "you have a hole in your pants."

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