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How do I avoid HF tropes that seemingly can't be avoided?

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arvind
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How do I avoid HF tropes that seemingly can't be avoided?

Post by arvind » Sat June 30th, 2012, 3:30 am

I'm writing a book based in 13th Century India, a time and place that had only arranged marriages and an incredibly male-dominated society. And I also realised that I definitely don't like to describe battle scenes.

So, a historical fiction novel with possibly no strong women characters, no love story really and no action scenes - should I give up already? Or the real question, have people here read good books in this genre that don't fall prey to these seemingly essential tropes?

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat June 30th, 2012, 5:45 am

Well, those tropes are there because that is what human life and culture is made of. Everyone got here through sex, and the ideal of that is a strong bonded pair of parents. Who says the love story has to come BEFORE the marriage? I suspect that if you were able to look across time and around the world, you'd find more 'romance' on both the friendship and the sexual level from couples who were thrown together without benefit of modern-style courtship and worked it out.

And a female character doesn't have to be rebellious or anachronistic or hostile to her culture to be strong. Cultures may seem 'male dominated' but if half the population doesn't cooperate, particularly the gender that is doing the early childhood training, that cultural pattern wouldn't be there.

Battles are remembered for the effects they had long after the actual event. If you can show that for some characters, up close and personal, I don't think you need to go into all the gory details.

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donroc
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Post by donroc » Sat June 30th, 2012, 2:26 pm

All of us experience "tropes" -- some in real life tell their tales better than others and so must we write them better as well.
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Bodo the Apostate, a novel set during the reign of Louis the Pious and end of the Carolingian Empire.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Sat June 30th, 2012, 2:44 pm

Totally agree with MLE. Check out A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini to see how he created incredibly strong women characters, romance and the horrors of war (without battle scenes) set in the Taliban period in Afghanistan. Good luck with your book!
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J.D. Oswald
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Post by J.D. Oswald » Sat June 30th, 2012, 4:27 pm

Jane Austen springs to mind: strong heroines; marriages within, or outside, society's expectations; and hardly any mention of the turbulent current affairs going on around the characters.

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Mythica
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Post by Mythica » Sat June 30th, 2012, 7:08 pm

[quote=""MLE""]
And a female character doesn't have to be rebellious or anachronistic or hostile to her culture to be strong. [/quote]

I agree, I'm so sick of women in historical novels being rebellious - it's so unrealistic and there are other, less obvious ways to portray a strong woman. To many female characters face an arranged married with objection - because that's what a strong modern woman would do and to me, it screams of an author who can't get into a historical mind frame and bring the historical setting to life. I would expect a strong woman in history to face her fate with pragmatism and determination to make the best of her situation and use it to her advantage in life.
Last edited by Mythica on Sat June 30th, 2012, 7:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Sun July 1st, 2012, 1:33 am

At one point, I got absolutely sick of young women in historical novels who fussed and fumed and rebelled over the prospect of marrying a wealthy old suitor. Frankly, I think an awful lot of young women of the past would have been delighted to marry money with the prospect of an early widowhood! And who says married women didn't mess around if they got the chance? The troubadours certainly thought they did. Now, in 13th century India, the custom of sati would have been a complication for the early widowhood scenario. But a novelist with imagination (and that quality is essential for success - not enough perhaps, but essential) can surely come up with a twist or two on the sati custom, a life-and-death situation just made for a historical romance.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Posts: 3564
Joined: August 2008
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun July 1st, 2012, 4:06 am

[quote=""Margaret""]Now, in 13th century India, the custom of sati would have been a complication for the early widowhood scenario. But a novelist with imagination can surely come up with a twist or two on the sati custom, a life-and-death situation just made for a historical romance.[/quote]

M.M. Kaye managed a thousand bestselling pages on that one. And given that it was a regular occurrence, it should be good for many more stories!

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LoveHistory
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Post by LoveHistory » Mon July 2nd, 2012, 11:46 pm

[quote=""Mythica""]I agree, I'm so sick of women in historical novels being rebellious - it's so unrealistic and there are other, less obvious ways to portray a strong woman. To many female characters face an arranged married with objection - because that's what a strong modern woman would do and to me, it screams of an author who can't get into a historical mind frame and bring the historical setting to life. I would expect a strong woman in history to face her fate with pragmatism and determination to make the best of her situation and use it to her advantage in life.[/quote]

I third this. Or second this, and third MLE's comment. Women sometimes have to be even stronger when their choices are limited. The ways that strength is expressed are different, but it's there.

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wendy
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Post by wendy » Tue July 3rd, 2012, 11:45 am

Good writers find ways to retell the same tales from different perspectives. As Willa Cather notes in O PIONEERS! "There are only two or three humans stories, and they go on repeating themselves as if they never happened before." (2:4) Each generation looks to its artists to cast new light on the human condition. Good luck with your journey!
Wendy K. Perriman
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