Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moving Historical Fiction Through Time:

Recently, fellow Henderson Writer's Group Author, Anna Marquez asked me to post something on her blog pertaining to Seven-Inch Vinyl. I came up with this, explaining how I used real-life events to move the story-line along through the years:

Moving Historical Fiction Through Time:
By: Donald Riggio

When I wrote my Rock and Roll novel, Seven-Inch Vinyl, I knew that I would be spanning a period of sixteen years as seen through the eyes of various fictional characters, traveling along several different storylines. I had to come up with some device to propel the narrative ahead through time, sometimes chapter by chapter.
I decided the way to do it was to incorporate some significant event in history where I put the reader down in a future point in a character’s story. I also tried to find events that could be tied to the music of the times.

By doing some research I was able to find out that the song that was playing on the top-40 radio station in Dallas, Texas on the morning President John Kennedy was assassinated was “I Have a Boyfriend,” by the Chiffons so I used that to open a chapter.

In 1965, New York disc jockey Dan Ingram was playing a song called “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” The speed suddenly slowed down and a minute later the entire east coast was thrown into a massive blackout. I used this to end a chapter where events had my protagonist experiencing of the darkest days in his career. It was a perfect metaphor.

It’s important for writer’s to keep their audience anchored in the time frame depicted in the book. Occasional reminders of the time and place will do that. Throw in a morsel of history for your reader to chew on.

…On this night,(December 15, 1954) viewers watched the image of Walt Disney behind his desk. In the background, a bouncy tune began to play. Disney’s image
faded into a series of hand drawn sketches that resembled the panels of a comic book. The lyrics of the song described the illustrations. They told the tale of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier…By the time the second and third episodes of the Davy Crockett saga aired in February of 1955, the entire country was caught in a “Davy Crockett” marketing frenzy. Consumers spent millions of dollars on toys, books, clothing, or anything linked to the television show…

In just a few short sentences, the above passage moved the narrative ahead three months in time.

I found that this device works more often than not. Its keep your readers focused on “when” and “where” they are. They trust you, the author, to keep them rooted in your world. If you don’t, your work will go back on their shelf or worse.

Donald also shares daily rock and roll trivia every on his Donald Riggio page on Facebook where he has 2800+ friends. Come by and party like it’s 1959.


  1. Fabulous post Donald. Biographical fiction, moving your readers through history from the eyes of another.

  2. Excellent suggestions, Donald. It is very important to establish an era and move things along. The songs were a great device and the reader definitely knew where they were in time.

    Morgan St. James
    Author, "Writers' Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction"

  3. A great post--and a great book! Thanks again, Donald. ;) :)