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Why Nuns Make Great Characters in Historical Fiction

Recently occurred to me that...

A few great things about having nuns as characters in historical fiction is that:

  • It can be assumed that they are better educated than their neighbors and so capable of more. They could be one of the few in the story who could read a manuscript or a secret ledger. They can read edicts for the village, putting them in a position of power, and letters for the individual so they are privy to information that others won't possess.
  • They have been brought up to be leaders. They organize things and investigate/snoop/assist so there's an excuse for them being the center of attention, or one of the key powers in the story.
  • Nuns have more of their own agency and freedom to move about the village and surrounding area which makes it easier for her to move through the story, unencumbered.  They visit the sick and isolated, and so can be a conduit for information or communication from afar.
  • They are also protected by a level of sanctity that can lessen the chance of assault, because no one wants to write about that.
  • Nuns are excused from the typical social or sexual obligations women face with men and so can co-exist with men in a story without coupling up.
  • It is reasonable for a nun to be an orphan or a cast-off from her family, or at the very least 'stationed' away from her family, so you can get away with a truncated backstory. They have fewer resources to call upon (no father/brother/sister to come to the rescue) which can increase tension in the story and keep this character focused on/dependent upon the protagonist.
  • Her room and lodging can also be extremely sparse so there doesn't have to be a lot of description of decoration and dressing.

So, I think nuns are very handy.  However, the downside is that you have all the religious activities that she has to perform, which can get in the way of your action. But... having her lose her religion while still possessing the freedoms that the religion bestows on her is a way to have your cake and eat it too.



Other blog posts on writing tips include:

Six Ways that Setting Can Drive Plot

What Does Your Writing Mean? Or, The Importance of Theme

Writing Women into HistFict: How-to Book has Great Advice

The Courage to Write

The Challenges of Writing Historical Fiction

The Eight Stages of a New Book

Six Authors on Staying in the Zone

Chicken or Egg? Hobby or Character Devo

The Mathematics of Fiction

Fiction vs. Non-fiction: More Complex than Just True vs. Imaginary

Reading and Writing -- Pleasures from the Same Wellspring

The Art of Being Still as a Writer


#writinglife #histfict #writingtips

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