So, if you saw my Facebook status, you know that I watched a movie last night. On a weeknight. Decadence!
It's true that I watched the movie in part as a reward to myself for doing so much writing this week. I also watched it because my husband wasn't home, and I wanted diversion.
I watch movies for another purpose, though. They trigger my sensory imagination for my writing.
Contemporary movies are no good to me for this purpose. It has to be a period piece set between 1820 and 1900. I take that back. I can probably allow some eighteenth-century movies as well, if they take place after 1780 or so.
Contemporary writers are able to constantly gather ideas and materials as they move through everyday life. It's not the same for historical writers--at least not for this one. Only very rarely does our culture provide us with anyone who even remotely resembles the characters who populate historical fiction. Most people don't live their lives based on firm abstract principles anymore--or, if they do, it's not cool to be obvious about it. Virtues skulk around the edges of our society, peeping surreptitiously through the curtains of postmodern ordinariness.
Social custom has changed so drastically that there are few twenty-first century situations that can be transplanted back into the nineteenth century. (Now that I've said that, I challenge myself and you to think of a very contemporary situation and how it could be rewritten in the Victorian period. No fair going medieval. It has to be nineteenth-century to count. If I think of one, I'll post it in the comments section. It would be ideal if I could include text messaging, individualism gone mad, and consumerism.)
Back to the point of this post. If you're writing a period piece, don't hesitate to watch movie after movie set in the time period in question. It will help you when you need to visualize your own settings and the way your characters behave. When your imagined scene becomes almost as vivid to you as a hallucination, it's a LOT easier to write well.
Just be prepared for a spousal backlash at some point. Eventually, they will jump up and down on your latest historical DVD and demand to watch Death Spree III.