It’s not all about history

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Hello,

It has been awhile since my last post but I have been working hard on my novel and exegesis, as well as a conference presentation and paper which I hope will be good enough for publication after the conference as well.

One of the problems I am grappling with as I write my novel is setting high enough stakes for the characters. The ‘universal’ stakes such as good versus evil are choices that the characters can make, yet the personal stakes are somehow lacking the right tenor of drama and tension.

Now this is an interesting conundrum for me in writing a historical novel. Why so? Because, the mantra I follow while working on my project is one of staying true to my sources because I am writing ‘historical’ fiction. This means that I wanted my characters to be in situations that are  believable for the times, and so I focused on trying to develop a world set in Ireland in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Delia Falconer, writing about historical fiction in The Writer’s Reader (2007) says that:

“It is easy to forget that historical novels are not history, that they have their own logic and different work to do; that, as Milan Kundera puts it, the ‘sole raison d’etre of a novel is to discover what only the novel can discover’” (Falconer, 2007:108).

But, while how I use my sources is a very important focus for me, writing historical fiction isn’t just about how you use your sources. Creative writing of almost any genre involves some ground-rules, such as story arc and tension points, I have to remember that I am writing a story. I work hard to have interesting but believable characters, to have believable interactions for them, and to use interesting prose. But, I have to learn to let go of the research and let the characters tell their story and make their journey. As Marele Day, also writing in The Writer’s Reader (2007) says:

 “…the writer must show, through action, dialogue and interior monologue, that it is of vital importance to the character, strong enough to drive the narrative, despite difficulties and oppositions, including the character’s own doubts and fears.” (Day, 2007: 55)

However, I realise now that I am a little nervous about letting my characters, whom I have known since inception, take risks, fall in love, and heaven forbid, even do something bad. I have a nasty antagonist, and one of my main protagonists is definitely not squeaky clean, but neither is he facing a career or life-threatening dilemmas. Well, he might not have until now. This has been a learning journey and I know that it is worthwhile as I am learning from my mistakes and I have time to correct them. Delia Falconer writes that:

 “All novel writing is, in the end, consciously or subconsciously, the product of philosophical inquiry about the nature of writing itself. A good novelist is always asking: What is a novel? What is the point of writing one? The historical novelist is also always writing to answer the question of why we should both to write novels in the present about the past.” (Falconer, 2007:108).

Resolution of the issue of goals and stakes for the characters is being achieved I think through the redrafting of the novel and slowly, but surely, the characters are able to tell their story.

Hope life is treating you well:)

kind regards

Olga