Nothing is True. Everything is Connected.
Historical Characterization

Historical Characterization

When working with historical characters and settings the hardest thing not to do is put a modern perspective on the character and/or moment.


There’s been a lot of talk about Lincoln.  Daniel Day Lewis was amazing as Abraham Lincoln and Steven Spielberg has always brought his A game to directing.  As much as there is Oscar buzz surrounding the film, there is also discussion on the ‘reality’ of the time period and of Lincoln.  I’ve read a few dozen articles for and against Lincoln – he wasn’t really the Great Emancipator he was a racist and viewed blacks as less equal.


It was 1863 – everyone was a racist. Matter of fact that wasn’t even a term because it wasn’t even a concept.

Do not put your modern thinking on historical characters.

Yes society has grown and changed and in all honestly needs to grow and change a hell of a lot more.

But the point here is what we think in 2012 as racist, derogatory, and perception of society – isn’t how the men and women of the 1860’s, 1760’s 1660’s, and so forth thought.

As a writer one needs to be very careful with this situation.  As a reader you need to leave your modern delicacies at the door.

Yeah it’s jarring to see derogatory words in fiction.  It makes us uncomfortable.  As a writer writing out particular words isn’t easy, but one needs to look past what makes you feel uncomfortable and put yourself in the world of the character.  Look at their society, the way they were raised, the politics, the economy – then you’ll find how the character will act and respond to other characters in the story.

In Sylum there are characters that have lived through decades, centuries, millenniums – they would have changed through the years because they have the time to personally grow and change.  The society around them will change – sometimes good sometimes bad.

Don’t expect to see Nicolaus as a 2012 man in 1599 England.

Don’t expect to see society treat Warrick as they would in 2012 in 1776.

Don’t expect Janet Frasier to have the respect as a doctor in 2012 in 1912.

So the point of this whole exercise?

Realize historically the world was much different.  People lived and saw the world very different from what we do today.  Do not put your modern world views on a historical characters and/or moments.  Let them live and act like they are supposed to, and maybe we’ll all learn something valuable from it.


  1. That is so true. I always found it hard to make sure I didn’t colour my characters with the prejudices and ideals of the 21st century. The fact that BJ, Timmothy Quinn, John Sheppard and all the others that help with the Arcs and side stories can manage it is amazing!

    1. adminblog

      Exactly if we as a person changed in our lives – its going to be even more over decades/generations. And need to remember that with characters.

      Also with technology – you have to remember to date yourself back.

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