How do you decide in what century is to be the setting for a novel?

Could I have chosen a different setting for Highwaypersons?

I have written about the reasons for setting a novel in a particular century. As promised, I am going to consider a few other factors. The important question is, ‘What happens in the story?’

How does the revolution in IT affect the setting for a novel?

Instant communication is a modern phenomenon. In the past, people had to make decisions for themselves. They could not ask for instructions, unless their superiors were present. Likewise, people had to acquire knowledge from libraries or from experience, as they could not look things up on the internet. News travelled at the speed of a horse. You will see instances where my characters have to work within the limitations of their time. If you updated the story, you would have to justify their apparent deficiencies, or make considerable changes to the plot.

A man with a magnifying glass studies a laptop. IT is an essential element in modern detective fiction.
A man with a magnifying glass studies a laptop. IT is an essential element in modern detective fiction.
How do social changes affect the setting?

In Highwaypersons, Book II, The King’s Justice, the main characters encounter the slave trade. A similar encounter could have occurred in a book set in the present, perhaps about people-trafficking or debt-slavery, but it would need some careful adapting.

Career opportunities for women are better now, although there’s room for improvement. Bethan and Megan would not have had so few options and therefore their decisions would have taken more explaining, had the story been set in the present. (Pride and Prejudice would not update well for the same reason: Miss Bennett would not need to find a man to keep her.)

In many novels, a lot of comedy depends on efforts at protecting a woman’s reputation. (Bertie Wooster comes to mind.) In the modern World, this does not seem to be so important. Being a virgin, after a certain age, is more of an embarrassment today than the opposite.

In the modern World, debt can be dealt with in various ways. Billy and Bethan would have found it harder to justify turning to crime.

If none of these issues apply, can a novelist pick any setting?

There is at least on more issue to be considered. I will consider it in my next blog.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *