Just wanted to say hello to everyone! I've joined this group after completing the recent Self-Edit Your Novel course and discovering I have historical tendencies! My WIP is a coming-of-age thriller set in the 1960's, which I didn't consider to be historical as it's within living memory for many, but apparently it is. I'm finding the thought of trying to get it 'right' quite daunting. Research can tell you a lot about how people lived, how they travelled, what they wore, music, fashion, etc, but capturing how ordinary people spoke is more tricky. Do you have any good research tips for someone who needs to knock a rough first draft into decent shape?
My husband and I were aged 10 through to 19 in the 60s. We were ordinary kids growing up in different parts of London, aware of what was happening in the 'swinging' scene but not a part of it. So if I can help with what life was like for normal folk (not the pop culture which is usually referred to for that decade), I'd be happy to dig into the old memory box for you.
Hi Alyson, as Janet says, social milieu is key. However, a few general tips that I've found useful in writing about the 1930s and 40s: read novels published at the time and relevant to the country or place. Watch films to capture vocabulary and speech patterns. Youtube is very useful - news clips, films made by companies promoting their products - anything really. Listen to radio clips if you can find some helpful ones. Photos are very good at depicting living conditions and how wide the social gaps could be.
It's helpful to remember just how recent recent history was for your characters. The war obviously, even if your characters weren't born at the time. Parents who may have left school at 14 if you're in the UK.
Even more generally: as Carol says, certain things are often referred to. I mostly file these under cliche and don't use them. This is more of a writing thing which you'll be tackling already but think of subtler ways of getting the same info across. Music: again apologies if I'm telling you what you already know but mentioning singers and groups really does depend on the reader knowing what they sounded like. If the music is important go for a brief description of the sound rather than just names or what performers looked like.
Though I'm personally a little cautious about using films from the 1930s/40s as reference for accents. A lot of the British films of the period are focused around middle class people and anyone working class has quite a mannered cockney vibe going on. Brief Encounter for instance. Celia Johnson is terrific but I wouldn't think too many women at the time spoke like her, outside the home counties anyway. It was all terribly, terribly stiff upper lip and RP. Obviously fine if you're writing about people in this class. I'm sure you can find authentic working class voices, but they're harder to find.
By the 1960s there's more 'kitchen sink' drama around, the Angry Young Men play wrights are trying to depict 'ordinary' lives and concerns, so that's perhaps easier.
What we really need is private diaries with authentic voices for each of our periods but that's not happening!
I've tried scouring YouTube for documentaries to find youth speak, with some success. Though my WIP is set in the 1970s so perhaps a bit easier.
Lynn's right about the accents and speech patterns. Unfortunately, newsreels (watched in the local cinema, which we called the 'bug house') were often voiced by 'posh' speakers. As for films - my husband is an east-ender and he didn't speak like the film cockneys, although real rhyming slang was heard in street markets - even in working class south London (my neck of the woods).
As Libby pointed out, the aftermath of the war was still in people's minds and lives. My friends and I used a bomb-site - sans bombs - at the end of our road, for our adventure playground (health and safety -wot's that?). Our parents fought in it, lived through it or had their entire lives uprooted or changed forever by it. i grew up with refugees' children as my neighbours and best friends. The thing is, people's lives don't just click over into something new on Jan. 1st of each decade; the influences of previous decades linger.
Sorry, I'm probably making things seem more difficult than they really are for you. Just fire your questions at me, if it's any help to you.
You're right, Lynn. Films from the 'forties generally cover a very limited range and the dialogue content can be very pared down so you don't necessarily get an impression even of what a sentence was like. Plus the thing of wartime propaganda - that could override just about anything. Stills photos from wartime can be as problematic as they are revealing. Nothing can be taken at face value. I think that for accents, the 1960s films are useful for an earlier period as they probably won't have changed that much, not so much that would show in a novel anyway although the vocabulary could be different. My feeling is that it's best to go for a mix and match, question everything and whatever looks limited very possibly is limited!
Films and photos shot out of doors can be very helpful for how places looked. Backgrounds generally aren't stage managed so much, unless they obviously are. That fondness for portraying everywhere rural to look somewhere like Sussex or, in the interests of national unity, the Yorkshire Dales ;)
Fortunately for wartime, private diaries have been published and more diaries and letters continue to be published.
But whatever the period, it's hard work, cliches abound and there's plenty of exercise for the inner sceptic.