The terrorist attacks in Belgium today settle on me uneasily as an author of historical fiction. As I blithely changed the timeline on my work in progress , I wondered what historical events I might be missing that might distract the characters in my novel, or even affect them. Characters live in larger worlds than our plots. For instance, my current hero is from Sicily. What might have been happening in his hometown during that week I just added to my story because I realized my plot timeline was too tight?
The other issue that concerns me is how I write about circumstances like what happened in Belgium today. My upcoming series (debuts 9/27/16), The Grand Russe Hotel, is concerned with Russian immigrants in England. Most of them are solid citizens trying to restart their lives after the Russian revolution, but some are Bolsheviks hoping to disrupt the British government. There are bombers and bomb threats and even actual bombs. Danger for all, a very real situation. As I writer, I need to make sure to keep the emotion tangible. It’s not just a plot. My characters need to feel the fear that is present in Europe today in the midst of so much sorrow, uncertainty, and despair. I must remember to keep my world of 1925 London three-dimensional. The terrorists of 2016 are different than those of 1925, but the emotions of those living through the experience are the same as those suffering today.
If we want readers to bond with our characters, understanding the mindset of people in crisis is very important. And if we can give our characters happy endings despite the traumas they live through, hopefully it can give readers a feeling of closure and hope that all is not lost, no matter how dark the sky that day.