Sunday, September 12, 2010
Writing Historical Fiction, part 8 Into the Present
Well, not quite into the present, but let's move our analysis into the modern period. As a reader of this blog commented, immersion for more modern eras is both easier and more difficult. It is more difficult because of the amount of data available. It is easier because of the amount of data available. In modern eras, the author must become a data miner and sifter where in the more ancient historical periods, the author is just a data miner. The good ore from the past is so rare, an author should be familiar with almost all the writing from a period. The ore is so available from the modern eras, the author must discard everything but the best nuggets. The question is how do you do that? I'll use my book Aegypt http://www.aegyptnovel.com/ as an example. To study the French Foreign Legion and Tunisia in 1926, I found as many French Foreign Legion first person accounts as I could and first person accounts about Tunisia during the period. There are a few--so the nuggets were available in the ore. I listened to music from that period and studied French fashion and Tunisian dress and customs. I found traveler's reports from the times and travel books. I read old papers and tried to glean as much information about the place and subjects from them. I had to delve into WWI because the main character of Aegypt, Paul Bolang, participated in that war. I tried to get broadcasts and decipher the political and culturally important issues of the times. As I tell my classes, history is like an iceberg, you see the small bit above the water, but 90 percent of it is out of sight. In a great historical fiction novel, you only see the tip of the author's research, the rest is buried deep within the novel. If you visit the website for Aegypt http://www.aegyptnovel.com/, you can review the slides for the classes I have taught on the history in the novel. Through these, you can begin to see the depth of information assumed in the final novel. Many of the facts and figures I show in the slides is nowhere in the book, because Aegypt is not a history text, it is historical fiction. To describe all the tailings of research in the novel would just bore the reader--the point is that all the history described in the class slides is apparent in the novel whether it is directly said or not. The characters, events, and places revolve around the historicity of the novel, and this gives it its historical authenticity. So, like in your general writing, don't show everything, likewise, in your historical fiction, there is no need for you regurgitate all you learned onto the page. You only need show your readers what is important to drive the storyline, plot, and theme. Everything else should come out as a result of your self immersion and therefore your voice of the times and culture.