Friday, February 1, 2008

Characters: Fictional or Historical?

It’s funny how ideas the ideas come. My first book presented itself as a character. Having studied in literature courses how difficult and scandalous it was for women of the sixteenth century to publish under their own names, I knew I had to write a book about one who did. At that stage of my writing career, I wasn’t comfortable writing a fictionalized biography, so I took Louise Labé, the first non-noble woman in France to publish poetry under her own name, as a model and created a fictional character. I began with this character and built a story around her struggles and successes. Only one historical person has a speaking role in the book; the rest of the characters, as well as the events the story narrates, are completely fabricated.

This time, for my second book, things are different. The events of a two-year period in a particular setting are begging to be told; historical figures insist on taking prominent roles in the account. Though the majority of the characters will be historical personages, I still want the freedom that creating a main character from scratch provides. Finding this character is proving to be a great challenge, for not only must this created person link the real characters’ histories, but her imagined story must be substantial enough to compete with and in a sense “carry” the historical record. Her story can’t just be a framework for historical events; it must catalyze them, or there is no sense in having her there at all. Having to dovetail the real with the fictional is much more difficult than creating with abandon, though in the end it might prove more rewarding. Who knows? {s} Perhaps by my third book I’ll rise to the challenge of taking a historical person as my viewpoint character.

This leads me to ask: to what extent do you prefer historical people to populate your historical fiction? If the setting is authentic and the events plausible, do you mind reading about fictional characters, or do you want the cast list pulled directly from the Who’s Who of whatever century?

1 comment:

Catherine Delors said...

As a reader, I do prefer a nice mix of historical and fictional characters.

As a fellow writer of historical novels, I entirely agree that keeping your main character fictional leaves you far more freedom. The historical characters who appear prominently in my books are fairly obscure. The less known about them, the better.

As for this second book of yours, you are a tease. Tell us more about it!