Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Challenge of Historical Fiction

When I opted to start writing about things of interest and a passion to explore, I was not aware of the impact that the research would have on me.  Having read other historical fiction works, I was both inspired and dismayed.  Talented authors wove the lives of their fictional characters into the times, places joys and turmoils of an era.  My favorites include Follett and Llewellyn.  Reading their books is both an adventure and an education.  Others I've read do neither.  Ignoring plot continuity and with no commitment to avoid misappropriation, their works are quickly forgotten.

Each character that I invent for my story opens yet another research quest.  From what culture did they emerge?  How did they come to be in my story at this point in history?  What did they bring to enhance the major focus of my work?  How are they dressed?  What do they eat?  What can they do?  How does that help or hinder my protagonist? 

I have invented some characters and invited them into my story only to find there is really no place for them to help my story move forward.  So, I fire them.  But I do not completely discard them.  I must have had a reason to invent them and perhaps they belong in another story that has not yet risen from my subconscious.  Let those discarded characters join others and perhaps their interactions might invent yet another story.  That is not really a new concept.
Luigi Pirandello explored it in his absurd metatheaterical,  'Six Characters in Search of an Author'.  So I keep a character development file.

Writing historical fiction, for me, demands respect for the characters, and the actual historical figures that influence the fictional character's behavior. I always ask, is there anyway possible way for my character to interact with someone from the history books?  I go deeper than 'Wikipedia'.  There are so many other , more reliable sites to drill into.  Libraries, and my own book collection, an ever growing source.  And conversations with real people when ever possible, is on my agenda.  The value of face to face conversations is incredible.  One good contact usually leads to two more. Examining resources from museum curators, the Library of Congress, Facebook friends and academic stacks occupy as much time as the actual writing of words into the story.  I have perused rare books and found access to depositions of people who allegedly witnessed the 'massacre of 1641' in Ulster.

So my approach to historical fiction is focused more on my personal thirst for learning and crafting a logical story that fits the times and a plot that has continuity and becomes a learning experience for the reader.  More that than on finding a gimmicks to get past an agent's gatekeeper who only scans first pages before tossing a work into the scrap heap or worse, the circular file.

So, considering historical fiction in the literary genre?  Be prepared for hard work, and a learning adventure.  Searching for quick success?, Look elsewhere.