25 July 2013, Writing Ideas - Writing Historical Fiction, part 7 Into the Past
Announcement: My novels Sister of Light and Sister of Darkness are about to be published. I write this blog about 2 months prior to its publication. I just heard that the proofs will be here soon--likely before the end of the week. My publisher also wants to put the entire set of novels based on Aegypt on contract--that's 5 more novels for 8 total. They also want to put my other novels on contract. The release schedule should be one novel every 2 months. I'll keep you updated.
Introduction: I wrote the novel Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon. This was my 21st novel and through this blog, I gave you the entire novel in installments that included commentary on the writing. In the commentary, in addition to other general information on writing, I explained, how the novel was constructed, the metaphors and symbols in it, the writing techniques and tricks I used, and the way I built the scenes. You can look back through this blog and read the entire novel beginning with http://www.pilotlion.blogspot.com/2010/10/new-novel-part-3-girl-and-demon.html.
I'm using this novel as an example of how I produce, market, and eventually (we hope) get a novel published. I'll keep you informed along the way.
The four basic rules I employ when writing:
1. Don't confuse your readers.
2. Entertain your readers.
3. Ground your readers in the writing.
4. Don't show (or tell) everything.
All right, we are moving into the realm of esoterics. The question is what is
the point of historical fiction? To answer this question we need to look at the
three aspects of a novel: storyline, plot, and theme. Obviously, for any novel, the
storyline has to convey some degree of adventure or mystery--entertainment,
remember entertain your readers. In a historical fiction novel, the storyline
must convey the entertaining aspects of the life or portion of the life of your
characters in a way that is entertaining to your readers. Therefore, the
storyline must be steeped in the times. This is where the true voice of the
times and culture come out. This is where you must be completely true to the
historical times and place. The storyline may be contrived, but not the setting
and thinking of your characters. The historical view is contained within the
storyline. So what about the plot? The plot is the pattern of events that make
up the larger narrative. In the plot, you must also hold to the basic
historical view of the times that is conveyed in the storyline, but there is a
larger point in it. The storyline must be made up of real elements, elements
that are not out of place in the times of your novel. The plot may not stray
from historical accuracy, but the pattern of events may not be from history at
all. You might follow a character little known in the history of the world or
who is a complete fabrication. The events of the storyline are real in terms of
the past, the plot may deviate, not in history, but in the overall pattern of
events, because, ultimately, your theme will hopefully not be the same as any
other novel. In fact, your theme will hopefully be unique to your time and
views. That is the point of the theme and that is the point of a historical
novel. You convey to your readers a theme that is wholly yours and wholly your
time, but that is wrapped perfectly in a historical plot and storyline.
Let's be very clear, your theme cannot be a convenient fiction to get
across your personal message. For example, historical fiction is likely not the
best means to get across an anti-religious theme. To do so would compromise the
storyline and plot. Historical fiction is likely not the best way to get across
many modern ideas--they are too foreign to the past. Many themes have been
plumbed a little too much in historical fiction, and some are just trite. For
example, an anti-slavery theme would be great for the 1800s but a little
overwrought today. An anti-patriarchal theme would fit in the early 1900s, but
not so much in the 21st century. A closer novel to today would better convey
these themes. The most powerful themes for historical fiction are comparative
themes. Those that draw comparisons from the past and lure the reader into the
past to then spit them back up into the real world with a piece of the golden
fleece or a golden apple in their hands. The greater the differences and the
greater the comparisons, the more powerfully the theme can draw and affect your
readers. So, examples...
Dana-ana http://www.dana-ana.com/ is a
historical fiction themed novel in a modern setting--it likely would not count
as historical fiction. It pulls a character from the past into the modern world
and allows the readers to see, by comparison, the strengths and weaknesses of
the Anglo-Saxon culture. Especially, the religious fervor of Dana-ana becomes
apparent. The direct comparison is to the view of religion in the modern
world. The difference is the way Dana-ana goes about her experience of life,
love, and religion. The theme is about redemption.
Aegypt http://www.aegyptnovel.com/ is a
historical fiction novel in a historical setting--1926. Its theme asks ultimate
questions about what might be true. It puts up four competing arguments.
First, is truth only in what we believe? Second, is truth only in what we
perceive? Third, is truth only in what we know? Fourth, is truth only in what
we can understand? This is the theme. The storyline and the plot are very
different because it is not a philosophical treatise, it is a fiction novel.
The point of the novel is to use historical comparisons to bring up and answer
these questions in the mind of the reader.
Centurion http://www.centurionnovel.com/ is a
historical fiction novel that follows the life of a known historical person, the
Centurion who executed Christ. It posits a very historically based theme about
the difference between belief and truth. The point it asks of the reader is why
would the Centurion at the foot of the cross say, "Surely this was the son of
God." This is the theme of the novel.
So in historical fiction, the
theme may be historically based, or not. The storyline and plot must be historically based.
For more information, you can visit my author site www.ldalford.com/, and my individual novel websites: http://www.aegyptnovel.com/, http://www.centurionnovel.com, www.thesecondmission.com/, http://www.theendofhonor.com/, thefoxshonor, aseasonofhonor.