Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Getting Into Character

In some ways writing a novel is a lot like acting. One needs to get into character whether presenting the role on paper or on stage. Many actors will tell you that putting on their costume is one of the most helpful things they can do to feel their way into a part. Some writers, especially those of us who write historical novels, find wearing period-appropriate clothing can help us understand something of what it felt like to live in a past age. And it’s lots of fun.

When researching A Tincture of Murder
, set in mid-Victorian times, I visited the Costume Museum in the Assembly Rooms at Bath and experienced the complications of putting on a surprisingly heavy Victorian dress with hoops and bonnet.
For the launch of A Jane Austen Encounter
in my Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series I attended the Jane Austen Society of North America’s AGM in costume. In sharp contrast to the Victorian attire I was amazed at how light, free and comfortable Regency clothing was. But for both periods I gained a new appreciation of the importance of having a ladies maid for help in dressing. Fortunately, my husband was available to do up all the tiny pearl buttons. (read more here )

LeAnne Hardy sets her Glastonbury Grail series in Tudor times. To celebrate the launch of Honddu Vale
at the ACFW conference she made a wonderful dress that Anne Boleyn herself could have worn.

I asked LeAnne to tell us about her her experience:

I have a long-standing love for early Britain. Glastonbury Grail, my historical series begins in 1538 when Colin Hay flees to the abbey at Glastonbury where he discovers a mysterious olivewood drinking bowl, disregarded by Henry VIII’s men, but which just might be the most valuable thing in all Britain. As I prepared to launch Book 2, I dreamed of a 16th century gown to wear to the launch and other events. It was a sewing project that sent me to costuming sites and multiple visits to Jo-Ann’s trying to choose an authentic fabric from among all the twenty-first century wares. In the end I put what I learned into
a blog for other costumers.
The dress was a hit at the launch even though my mother-in-law was still stitching the veil onto the Anne Boleyn-style French hood.

The headpiece was complete in time for genre night at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. Costumes enabled me to spot other writers from the same period (as well as several from Donna’s Regency period.) I made a small beaded drawstring bag of lining fabric to carry business cards for those who commented on my dress. Handing them out must have worked because I noticed a definite spike in sales in the next couple weeks, and attracted the interest of several bloggers. I will be wearing my gown for a book-signing event later this month, hoping that also will draw attention and stimulate sales. There are more books to come in the series so I hope to have many more opportunities to wear my gown.

Almost more important to me than stimulating sales are the insights I gained into my female character. At the end of Book 1 (Glastonbury Tor), the young gentleman Colin promises to return to marry the peasant girl Alice when he has reconciled with his father. As Alice waits she would no doubt be sewing her trousseau—by hand as I did the parts that would show. But what would it do for her self-image when her peasant best that she labored over with such love is not good enough for a party at the neighboring landowners? How silly stays and farthingales would seem to Alice, and how wasteful all those yards of fabric for one dress—one!—when the same amount could have clothed her and her sister with leftovers for children’s garments. I knew Alice would be struggling with her new identity as the wife of a minor noble in book three, but my sewing project gave substance to that vague idea and strengthened the motivation for pivotal events.

Honddu Vale
(Book 2 The Glastonbury Grail series) Colin Hay returns home to Wales to reconcile with the father he blames for his mother’s death. But he finds Sir Stephen in the arms of a bewitching young woman with designs on more than a place in Sir Stephen’s bed. Belle covets the ancient olivewood drinking bowl that Colin brought with him when the abbey at Glastonbury was closed by King Henry VIII. Yet the cup, which once showed such supernatural power that some whispered it was the Holy Grail, now lies cold and empty in Colin’s hands. Were the glorious promises of God’s presence nothing more than a dream?

A Tincture of Murder
(Book 4 The Lord Danvers Victorian True-Crime Mysteries) William Dove, the notorious "Leeds Poisoner" is on trial for murdering his wife. He can’t be poisoning the fallen women at the Magdalen Asylum run by Danvers’ young priest brother. So who is? Is another madman stalking the streets of York? And what is causing the foul stench at the orphans’ school?
Lady Antonia is at her most superb in this intricate tale that weaves fact and fiction to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

A Jane Austen Encounter
Book 3 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries) English professors Elizabeth and Richard are celebrating twenty years of marriage with their dream vacation— visiting all of Jane Austen’s homes in England. But not even the overpowering personality of their Oxford guide nor the careful attentions of the new friends they make can keep their tour free from lurking alarms. When a box of old documents is donated to the Jane Austen Centre in Bath Richard volunteers to help sort through it. Later that night, however, he finds the Centre’s director bleeding on her office floor. Could the valuable letter that has gone missing really lead them to new revelations about Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript The Watsons?

Join Elizabeth and Richard on their tour: Visit all the sites so redolent of Jane Austen and her characters in the beautiful city of Bath; stay in the Chawton House Library and visit the charming cottage where Jane’s writing flowered and the nearby Steventon church where her father was rector and her own faith established; stand by her grave in Winchester Cathedral; and enjoy your time at the lovely country estate of Godmersham. But don’t let your guard down. Evil lurks even in the genteel world of Jane Austen.

Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow


  1. LeAnne and I would love to hear from other novelists. Have you ever dressed as one of your characters? What do you do to "get into character"?

  2. Very interesting to hear of the contrast between Victorian and Regency clothing. In my own lifetime fashions have gone the opposite direction--from more formal to more comfortable. And yes, I would love to hear from other authors who have "dressed the part."

  3. I have dressed the part of my late Victorian, early Edwardian characters including a chemise, a corset with steel stays, a corset cover, a multi-flounced petticoat, a bodice with more stays, a skirt that attached to the bodice with a stayband, stockings and shoes appropriate to the period, hats decked out with flowers and frills, parasols...

    It all helped me understand firsthand how the characters felt when trying to move, breathe, eat, while greatly restricted in a corset.

  4. I dressed as a Civil War cavalry officer from the North at the last ACFW conference! It's so much fun!

    Great post!

  5. Ah, a man in uniform . . . and cavalry no less!

  6. Yes, Peter, wonderful picture of you on Facebook!

  7. P.S. to Peter--our son is an Army officer. Interesting that their jackets are black and trousers blue-- because in the Cavalry the pants faded when on horseback.