by Leigh Perry / Toni L.P. Kelner
Of course, as you may have noticed from past posts, my ability to connect random events to the writing life is directly correlated by how late I am at posting--this one should have been written yesterday--but I actually have a point or two to make.
First off, let me introduce the concept of a renaissance fair to those who haven't had the opportunity to attend one. These are seasonal events in which a renaissance village is recreated, with more or less accuracy, complete with monarchs, knights on horseback, and all kinds of entertainers. Costumed characters wander the grounds, and attendees are encouraged to wear medieval garb themselves.
Wait, medieval? I thought this was the renaissance?
Well, kind of. The fact is, renn fairs play pretty fast and loose with history. For instance, most seem to be set in English villages, even though the renaissance as such never really hit England. King Richard's Faire, for instance is set in the faux town of Cavershire. Which brings us to my first point.
Accuracy, smaccuracy--are you having fun?
This is not to say that authors shouldn't do their research. Whether your protagonist is a cop or a hair dresser or an archeologist, you should know enough about those vocations to depict them accurately. Ditto for settings, forensics, and such. But mystery readers are willing to cut you some slack for purposes of a good story. Archeologists don't often investigate murders, any more than private eyes do. Police officers do, but they work in task forces and teams and juggle all kind of cases, not just the one in the book's title. You know this and mystery readers know this. We all just wink and play along, just as I wink at Jacques Ze Whipper, making a pun on a murderer who wasn't know until the 1880s and who had apparently drawn on his mustache with an eyebrow pencil. Why? Because it's fun. And in this case, because Jacques is a great performer.
As for the French accent and the mustache, that's all part of the character he's created. And that brings me to my second point.
Characters are important, and consistant characters even more so.
One of the attractions of a renn fair is that the people in the village aren't just people in costume--they have their own characters to portray, and I know from speaking to people who work at renn faires they don't just throw on bits and pieces of leftover garb--they spend a lot of time creating their characters and dressing appropriately.
So even the man wrangling the crowd at the joust and the woman selling cider are in character, and it adds so much flavor to the day to see them, just as colorful characters add to a story.
Moreover, they stay in character all day long.So don't ask anybody about iPhones or the Red Sox--there are no such things known in Carvershire. Instead, ask them about the king and queen, or whether they take shields of credit (that's credit cards to you and me), or where the privies are. (Fortunately, they do not insist on period restroom facilities.)
Speaking of jousting, they have great ones. Games, sword fighting, and knock-knights-off-the-horse-with-a-lance battles. It's a tremendous spectacle, and unsuprisingly, leads to my next point.
Conflict is good.
It makes for a good story to have a strong conflict, whether it's between two postive characters or between an antagonist and a protagonist. It doesn't have to be phyisical and violent, but those sure are satisfying to watch. Here's the knight we rooted for.
See how eager he is to go into battle, and to talk smack about his opponent? Though he didn't win, it wasn't from lack of cheering on our part. And he had a great death scene, which segues right into the next point.
A strong ending stays with you.
Though you can of course leave the faire at any time, it's well worth it to stay until the end of the day when the King, the Queen, and the court appear at the gate to see you off with a renaissance flair and most of the villagers come to sing a really lovely farewell song.
The day felt complete, just as a satisfying ending makes a book or story feel complete. And that's the kind of story that's going to stay with the reader, which is what all writers want. I know we felt as if we'd brought a little bit of the renaissance home with us that day.