Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Why My Character Can't Carry Her Phone in Her Pocket

Yesterday I had lunch at one of my favorite pizza restaurants: Portland's Old Town Pizza (which is reputedly haunted!). I sat across from a telephone similar to one my In the Shadow of Blackbirds protagonist uses in the novel's 1918 setting:


I took the picture to demonstrate why you won't catch my heroine texting her friends or searching for her phone in her pocket. She and her classmates would never get in trouble for bringing phones to school, because that would entail ripping large wooden boxes off walls or sneaking in candlestick telephones that are far from being wireless.

One of the advantages of writing historical fiction set in the fairly recent past—as opposed to say the Middle Agesis that I often stumble upon items like this phone in everyday places, and I can explore how these contraptions look and feel. Here's another historical device that appears in the novel...found in my good friend's Victorian home she's renting:


Although it looks like elevator controls, it's actually a push-button light switch from the late 1800s. My characters wouldn't be flipping on light switches like we do in modern homes, so I always need to make sure I phrase things the right way when writing scenes involving the technology of the day.

I'm still not sharing the names of these characters who are talking into giant, boxy wall telephones and pushing light-switch buttons. You'll need to wait until I post the official synopsis before learning more about this WWI-era protagonist of mine and the ghost in her life. For now, I'll just leave these little breadcrumbs of information about the novel's historical world. The bigger and better revelations are yet to come...

6 comments:

Ara Burklund said...

I always wondered how old the push-button light switches were. That's crazy that they're from the 1800s! Fun stuff!

Mina Lobo said...

Hmmm, I didn't know about push-button light whatsits. I wonder when and why we moved to switchy things...
Some Dark Romantic

Cat Winters said...

Being the historical-fiction-writing geek that I am, I just checked on the dates of the different types of switches. The push buttons were invented in 1884. The flippy switches are called toggle switches and were patented in 1916. So, my 1918 characters could have used the modern switches if they weren't living in homes built in the Victorian era.

Kim Murphy said...

The push button light switches went into the 20th century. The first house I lived in had them. I can't remember how old the house was though. Anywhere from the 20s to 40s.

Cat Winters said...

The toggle switches seem so modern that I'm not surprised they took a while to catch on. I think my cousin's house that was built in the 20s has the toggle type, but there were several upgrades made to her place over the years. I'll have to ask my parents what their houses had when they grew up.

Cat Winters said...

P.S. The main house in my book actually uses gas lighting, which makes those push-button switches look like futuristic contraptions.

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