Jane Austen used world events subtly, and you can too.
I know right now we are in a period of tremendous change. Just this week, we saw Great Britain vote to leave the European Union; today as this post goes live, Australia votes for their next government; and in Hong Kong, people are protesting Chinese dominance – a protest sparked by some guys trying to sell some books.
Jane Austen’s time was also turbulent. She was born just around time when the American colonies were breaking away, and the French Revolution started when she was a teenager. Her country was involved in the Napoleonic Wars from 1803 to 1815. Revolutions and other wars mixed society from top to bottom, creating new rich people, impoverishing other families, introducing refugees to Great Britain, and just generally roiling the social waters.
But she used those events to power her novels. Let’s concentrate on Pride and Prejudice. Merchants’ grandsons could afford to take country houses, while established families left such houses open to rent and to be sold off as they became poorer. The movement of troops meant that even young women in a rural village had the opportunity to meet men they never would have otherwise. The chaos of society allowed men like Wickham to start fresh and prey on a new locale’s merchants and young women.
We don’t have to take the big events of the world and put them in our books (unless we want to, of course!). But the energy of chaos is important. It shows up in our daily lives, and it should show up in the daily lives of our characters, as well.
I think it’s also a useful prod. The world is always changing, and while we feel that particularly strongly now, it’s always true. Don’t sit on our stories. To some extent, they are always a product of their time, and if we don’t get them out with a publication date on them, they will age and be harder to sell. I don’t think it matters what genre. Historicals are to some extent time-resistant, but they aren’t time-proof. They also contain traces of the attitudes and waves of the author’s time. Even a genius like Georgette Heyer wrote regencies that had a few really klunky passages that may have gotten by in the 1950s, but don’t fly in the early 21st century.
I guess the real lesson is carpe diem. Grab the day, put it to use in your writing, and then get those stories out in the daylight!