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Setting: What’s In The Room

Domestic Details

Setting is important in any story. In historical novels, setting details give the reader a sense of what is around the characters. Without setting the characters are “floating in space” with nothing to ground them to surroundings. 
In the video of the mosaic discovery, the details of vibrancy and varied images are a fine example of the style of flooring in Italy and the Mediterranean.
Setting details are the perfect way to enrich historical fiction without an overload of info-dump. When characters in The Roman Heir gather in a new room to meet the murdered man’s widow, the description is brief  but sets the tone of the meeting.

Aemilia Atia, Philo’s mother, had left her bedroom and gathered everyone in the entertainment room when she learned of the guest. The floor was covered in a dizzying array of black and white mosaics and the walls were painted with intricate scenes of trees and flowers and young people playing musical instruments in nature. Braziers, next to seats, warmed the room from the winter cold. Slaves brought trays of gustum: small tidbits of fruit, cheese, and salads for nibbling placed on platters and bowls around the seats, but no one was eating.

 Homes at the time of the story (512 A.D./C.E.) were highly decorated. A floor plan of the house in Ostia illustrates the elaborate mosaics in every room. Even the kitchen had designs on the floor, though not as elaborate as other communal rooms. In the scene with the widow, the characters are gathered in the room marked number 10.

Vibrant Walls
Italian homes of the time were not limited to vibrant and intricate flooring. Walls were painted in bright colors often with detailed figures. These are the walls in the “side room” where Argolicus first sees the body of the murdered Patrician. 


Our current Western decor–from rustic to industrial to modern–is far from the colorful indoor life of Italian life at the time of Theodoric.  
Visual imagery is a powerful aid in writing research, especially for historical genres. I find myself looking at images as I write scenes to help me get into the story.

Zara Altair
Zara Altair writes mysteries set in ancient Italy. Argolicus thinks he has retired, but he and his tutor, Nikolaos, are drawn into puzzles, politics, and murder.

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