Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 10 of 18

Thread: Hello Reenactors. I'm a writer and I need your help.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Posts
    1

    Default Hello Reenactors. I'm a writer and I need your help.

    Iím a fiction writer currently working on a short story that centers around Civil War reenactment culture, and I hope that some of you involved in this tradition might be able to provide some insight. I know nothing about this faction of society, but I wanted to write a story about a woman who must dress as a man in order to ďpassĒ within a detail-oriented subculture. Think of a modern day Mulan. My main character is a female history buff that wishes to engage in the battle part of the reenactment as a soldier, but is told that she canít by the eventís organizers. I'm seeking to respectfully explore why this would be a problem for the organizers, as well as how women involved in the culture feel about this in the context of historical accuracy. I picked up a copy of Confederates in the Attic on a couple of people's recommendation. The good folks at the Reddit Civil War forum directed me here. Iíve put together some questions that would help me out immensely in my writing. Feel free to answer all of them or just some of them. Any feedback would be helpful.
    I thank you in advance for any help you might be able to offer.

    • How long do battles last on average? I understand that, depending on historical context, they can be single or multi day affairs. What are the long ones like?
    • If you die in the field, how long do you actually stay down?
    • Describe the role of women in reenactment culture. Are they allowed to participate? What would a woman who wanted to fight have to do?
    • Where do you get your costumes? How strict are the dress code regulations for participants?
    • What sort of food do you eat in the field? Is there a drinking culture that goes along with re-enactment?
    • Explain to me how the actual combat goes down. Are there set moves that everyone knows, almost like choreography? Do you use real weapons? Have you are anyone you know ever been really injured during re-enactment?
    • How did you get involved in reenactment? Why is it meaningful to you?

  2. #2

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by WriterGirl View Post
    I know nothing about this faction of society, but I wanted to write a story about a woman who must dress as a man in order to “pass” within a detail-oriented subculture.
    First point: It's not all one subculture. I've been to events where women participate openly, with makeup, no binding, holding hands with their significant other, etc. I've been to others where you had to show your driver's license to prove your gender. And everything in between.

    It'll be hard to write a story without choosing the subculture and understanding it in particular.

    Think of a modern day Mulan. My main character is a female history buff that wishes to engage in the battle part of the reenactment as a soldier, but is told that she can’t by the event’s organizers. I'm seeking to respectfully explore why this would be a problem for the organizers,
    Again, there are different reasons at different events. It'll range from "this is a good ol' boys club where we can go camping and get away from our wives for the weekend, so we don't want any women around," to "very few women can actually pass as men 24/7, and we want that level of accuracy," or some combination thereof.

    One paradox is: what does a woman do after hours, if it's the kind of event where there are long, non-reenacting social hours in camp? If the men aren't portraying Civil War soldiers anymore and are just being themselves and camping in 2012 in old-fashioned clothes, does she still have to pass as a man in 2012 and need a whole modern 2012 backstory about her modern life as a man? Or if they're not pretending to be Civil War soldiers anymore, can she drop the whole pretense too and just be a woman wearing odd clothes? I try to avoid events where there's a lot of modern talk and down-time, so I don't know, but hopefully others can comment on how that works.

    as well as how women involved in the culture feel about this in the context of historical accuracy.
    I'll skip that and let them answer.

    How long do battles last on average? I understand that, depending on historical context, they can be single or multi day affairs. What are the long ones like?
    Some events have scheduled battles that last an hour, maybe. Very few events have a steady running battle for more than a day because events with enough participants to make a Shiloh or Gettysburg practical, tend to have people who want time to go shopping, chat, relax, etc. in between. Campaign events, though, will portray military life for two or more days straight, including occasional on-off skirmishing.

    A woman passing will face different challenges at the different kinds. The kinds with a scheduled battle will have porta johns, large tents, and in the down time, no one is part of the historic scenario. I've seen photos where female soldiers will even change into a dress and go to the ball. Acceptance, or lack thereof, would depend more on the good ol boy attitude.

    At a campaign event, there's usually no porta johns, perhaps no tents or a shared one, so peeing, washing and changing clothes would be more like needing to pass in the 1860s, and therefore more challenging. Acceptance would tend to depend more on historical accuracy, though there's a good-ol-boy component too.

    If you die in the field, how long do you actually stay down?
    Depends: till the end of the battle, till you need to be "recycled" as fresh troops, till the running battle passes over and away.

    Describe the role of women in reenactment culture. Are they allowed to participate? What would a woman who wanted to fight have to do?
    Again, since there is no single reenactment culture, there's no single answer. Also, don't forget that many, many women participate as women, and again, there's a wide variety, from those who dress up, shop, take pictures of the battle, cook and chat, to those who try to portray women from the period who are ordinary women, as accurately as men try to portray men. It takes no less courage to deal with being burned out of your home, while caring for your children and elderly parents, with your husband away at war, than to be a Mulan on the front lines, but people often forget that.

    Where do you get your costumes? How strict are the dress code regulations for participants?
    Calling them "costumes" is a blatant marker that you haven't caught on to the culture yet. I've only heard that term used in the least battle-oriented civilian living histories, like a hometown founders day. It'll be "uniform," or "period clothes." People make them or buy them online or at vendors during events. The dress code regulations vary from y'all come, to a list of basics and prohibited things. Most events publish a list of requirements; check out some. Whether they're enforced, of course, is another matter.

    What sort of food do you eat in the field? Is there a drinking culture that goes along with re-enactment?
    Again, at some events, might be poptarts, beef jerky and funnel cake. At other events, it'll be based on records of what was eaten at the historic time and place. On the drinking culture--well, it seems that way to me, but in real life I don't hang out with drinkers, so the only time I'm around them is at reenactments, and it amazes me how important it seems to be to people.

    Explain to me how the actual combat goes down. Are there set moves that everyone knows, almost like choreography?
    Again, too many different types of events to summarize. You're better off focusing on one type of event, and learning more in detail about it.

    Do you use real weapons?
    Um, yes. Have you been to a reenactment and talked to reenactors and seen their weapons? That'd be a good first step. They'll be glad to show you all their stuff. I can't ever recall anyone having a weapon that wasn't "real" (loaded with blanks of course) other than very rarely safer versons of knives or bayonets for choreographed hand-to-hand combat, but that's only at one out of a thousand events. I've used a rubber knife exactly once in 20+ years.

    Have you are anyone you know ever been really injured during re-enactment?
    Don't recall any injuries myself, but people fall off horses, accidentally cut themselves with pocket knives, twist an ankle on uneven ground, that kind of thing, pretty similar to typical camping or horseback-riding injuries.

    Those are just answers from my perspective, trying to cover the whole spectrum, but naturally it's just one person's viewpoint and I'm sure there are lots and lots of different events, viewpoints and subcultures that I'm not even aware of or that I've described very poorly. I'd suggest narrowing down what sort of reenacting you want to write about first, and getting a feel for the culture of women-portraying-men within that kind of specific subset.

    Hank Trent
    hanktrent@gmail.com

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Location
    Spring Hill, FL
    Posts
    3,854

    Default

    I'll give you an unscholarly, but well-researched answer - refer to what Mr. Trent said above
    Ross L. Lamoreaux
    Tampa Bay History Center
    www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
    On Facebook at: Tampa Bay History Center Living History Programs

    "The simplest things, done well, can carry a huge impact" - Karin Timour, 2012

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Location
    Augusta, Georgia
    Posts
    485

    Default

    It seems that, whenever people get a notion to include some element of the hobby in some form of entertainment medium (books, TV, movies), they really only touch on it from an outsider's perspective, getting thin veneer from the outside surface.

    For example: The show "ER" wanted to portray a reenactor in the ER who was injured at an event. So, they have him in there refusing anethesia and trying to stay "in character". They didn't get it. They guy would have been telling the doctors not to cut off his uniform because he had to wait 8 months to get it and it cost a king's ransom (not really... he was a farb!).

    Here's an example of someone who "gets it": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rsz3Fpy0Jkk
    Its an old ebay commercial and the humor that they use is funny to US because it reflects an understanding of who we are and how we operate.

    So, while Hank gave some great advice, I would suggest that you get to some events, including as many different TYPES of events with different types of reenactors as you can. There is a ton to read on line because we like to debate minutae and philosophy, so take advantage of that.

    Best of luck to you.
    John Wickett
    Carpetbagger

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Columbus, OH
    Posts
    128

    Default

    As with any writing, and being a bit of a writer myself (http://confederateinblue.blogspot.com), I can say that the best way you'll succeed in a story about reenacting is for you to actually experience it.

    You can ask questions all you want to get research for your story, but until you actually experience it, your story will be a bit detached. Best way to start in reenacting is to go to a reenactment and start talking with the various units there. Women in the ranks is relatively common, though not accepted with all units as it was not accepted during the Civil War (even though it did happen). If you find a unit with women in uniform and carrying a musket, see if they'll let you fall in with them. Often they will have sufficient loaner gear to give you a taste of action, and then you'll have made the biggest step to getting material you need for your story.

    Personally I think you're going to be hard-pressed for this "Modern Day Mulan" concept. The units that don't allow women in the ranks has nothing to do with anything against women. It is more because they are trying to present a true impression of an actual Civil War company, and during the Civil War any woman discovered in the ranks was immediately pulled off--it was not their place. The "Mulan" concept would work better for a historical Civil War novel, but not so much for modern-day reenacting society.

    On that note, I'll give my quick take on some of the questions which Hank already answered quite well.

    I've been to small, local events where a battle lasted 20 minutes. I have yet to be at a national (Perryville will be my first), but I have never seen a battle last more than an hour. Most events cover Saturday and Sunday, and there is usually one battle per day.

    With short battles, generally when we die in the field, it's for the duration of the battle. This is usually why we hear the complaint that no one dies until near the end.

    The most common participation women have in reenacting is as civilians of the Civil War era. But as I stated above, some companies do allow women in their ranks, meaning they wear a uniform and carry and shoot a musket.

    And you really do not want to use the term "costume". The clothes we wear are about as close to what was worn during the Civil War as we can afford. There are many sutlers (vendors) that sell these things, often at events, but they usually also have websites to order online. Some of us make our own.

    Food depends on the event--it can be anything from the kind of thing you see at a fair to attempting to stick to period-correct food (a good resource for that is a book called "Hardtack and Coffee"). The drinking culture is entirely dependent on individual companies--some have it, other do not, but over-indulgence is never acceptable.

    Having recently become an officer, I can give you the perspective of how the combat goes both from the eyes of a private and the eyes of a battalion officer. If a specific battle is being reenacted, then the plan is to attempt to follow how the original battle actually went, though this is not as easy as it sounds. From the perspective of a private, we have an idea which side is supposed to win, then we follow the orders given by our captain and shoot when we're told. From the perspective of an officer, after rubbing our ranks around at the officer's meeting, we discuss the general idea of what we expect to do and happen, then we get onto the field and the whole scenario gets shot within 5 minutes.

    Considering we are running around on the field in wool in 90 degree heat with lots of gear, pointy things, and explosives, it's amazing there aren't more injuries than there actually are. Yes, people do get injuries of all kinds, but it is not common for them to be severe. Occasionally someone does get seriously hurt, and the battle will usually stop outright while modern medics deal with the situation.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Location
    Madison, Wisconsin
    Posts
    13

    Default

    I am a woman who is just starting out in reenacting. I have to tell you, when I began looking for a group that would accept civilians (my husband isn't interested in the military side), every single military group I contacted tried to recruit *me*, despite me telling them that I am nearly 40 and that there isn't enough binding in the world to make me look male. So if all I wanted to do was shoot napoleon guns (which I totally do want to do), I could throw on a jacket, tuck my hair under my cap and do it (except for maybe those groups where the guys do this to avoid their wives all weekend, but why a woman would *want* to spend time around guys like that is beyond me).

    But more than that, I want to time-travel. I want to in some way experience life as it was then, and the kind of people who can best facilitate that experience are not the people who would allow a woman *like me* in their ranks. If I could pass, I would try. All you have to do to see why is read what these guys have written about The Cornfield at Maryland, My Maryland. One of my ancestors was 18 when he died at the Battle of Wilderness, and me being female doesn't make me less interested in what he experienced. Anyway, if your character is being told she can't, it is by those kind of groups. Not because they are anti-women, but because most women can't pass as men. And since I can't either, I cannot legitimately play a soldier even in a unit known to have a female passing as male. It would detract from the experience as much as a guy wearing a baseball cap with a battle flag on it instead of a kepi would, I think. I think there are other things that are just as distracting that some of these groups *do* allow, but that's a different discussion thread and what I find distracting may not bother others in the least.

    Anyway, I think I understand where your character is coming from, so I think it sounds like an interesting premise.

    I put off getting into this for a while because all the women I saw in the camps looked bored, and I almost never saw a civilian man. I know now that there are all kinds of options for me and for my family that are just as, and really more interesting to me than soldiering. I will take pride in representing the strong women who came before me, even if I can't do it with a sword on top of a horse.
    Carrie Preston

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Stroudsburg, Pa.
    Posts
    1,222

    Default

    "I know nothing about this faction of society,"

    Then you really have no business writing about it.
    Bill Watson
    I write about history for people who regret not being there when it happened.

    Books
    Brother William's War, Illustrated, about a Southerner's war
    The Ludlam Legacy, Illustrated, about a young Yankee orphan's war.
    Seize the Day! A best-practices guide to wringing more satisfaction from your Civil War weekend
    The Little Book of Civil War Reenacting: An introduction for those who want to try it out

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    Location
    Tuskaloosa, Alabama
    Posts
    4,191

    Default

    Miz Preston

    Sounds like you're our kind of woman.

    If you are still looking for options over and above looking incongruent in a uniform, or being bored beyound words, send me a private message.
    Mrs. Lawson
    Weaver, Spinster, Strong Fast Dyes
    Knitted Goods and yarns available thlawson@bellsouth.net



    Moderator, When I remember. We got Rules here!



  9. #9
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Posts
    690

    Default

    As you have seen by the answers here, reenacting is not a one size fits all hobby with a hard and fast set of rules. So to my mind, if one wants to write fiction using CW reenacting as a context, my first question to you would be what is the purpose of your character and her motivation? Once I can see what the character is doing and why, then I can better construct the context. Thats the writer in me.

    Kent Dorr - Autumn in Ohio
    "Devils Own Mess"

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Near Hanover, PA
    Posts
    1,090

    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by WriterGirl View Post
    I’m a fiction writer currently working on a short story that centers around Civil War reenactment culture, and I hope that some of you involved in this tradition might be able to provide some insight. I know nothing about this faction of society, but I wanted to write a story about a woman who must dress as a man in order to “pass” within a detail-oriented subculture. Think of a modern day Mulan. My main character is a female history buff that wishes to engage in the battle part of the reenactment as a soldier, but is told that she can’t by the event’s organizers. I'm seeking to respectfully explore why this would be a problem for the organizers, as well as how women involved in the culture feel about this in the context of historical accuracy. I picked up a copy of Confederates in the Attic on a couple of people's recommendation. The good folks at the Reddit Civil War forum directed me here. I’ve put together some questions that would help me out immensely in my writing. Feel free to answer all of them or just some of them. Any feedback would be helpful.
    I thank you in advance for any help you might be able to offer.

    • How long do battles last on average? I understand that, depending on historical context, they can be single or multi day affairs. What are the long ones like?
    • If you die in the field, how long do you actually stay down?
    • Describe the role of women in reenactment culture. Are they allowed to participate? What would a woman who wanted to fight have to do?
    • Where do you get your costumes? How strict are the dress code regulations for participants?
    • What sort of food do you eat in the field? Is there a drinking culture that goes along with re-enactment?
    • Explain to me how the actual combat goes down. Are there set moves that everyone knows, almost like choreography? Do you use real weapons? Have you are anyone you know ever been really injured during re-enactment?
    • How did you get involved in reenactment? Why is it meaningful to you?
    I guess actually attending one of the 150th anniversary events and talking to folks in person is totally out of the question. I didn't do my homework when I was in school, not doing yours for you.
    Eli Heagy
    187th PV

    The 137th NY performed way, way better than the 20th Maine at Gettysburg. They just didn't have a self promoting blow hard of a Col. leading them.
    "I didn't do my homework when I was in school. And, you expect me to do yours for you? Not happening."

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •