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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Characters

Words: Stratford Man 2238, and on the YA think somewhere around 2750, though it's hard to keep track.
Reason for stopping: Will has Kit in tears. I think it's time to let everybody go to bed and start over fresh in the morning.

***

I have no idea how so many writers who write historical fiction manage to come back with these savagely two-dimensional characters. If a rounded character is built on the contradictions--scratch the surface of any real person and you'll find them.

I'm noticing this in particular because my guys are so determined to come to life on me. Take Will Shakespeare. Here you have this guy whose friends called him "gentle Will," who was noted for going home early when the boys were going out drinking, who quite possibly was in ill health most of his life--who wrote some of the most fabulously passionate poetry the English language has ever seen--who was noted for outwitting Ben Jonson and George Chapman in philosophical arguments, who cheated on his taxes and his wife and who seems to have been a bit of a prankster....

He just springs to life as this person, this human being , with these flaws and chinks and blind spots--And we know almost nothing about him.

How can you take a person who is much, much better documented than that and turn him flat?

***
Some say that ever ’gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then, they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallow’d and so gracious is the time.

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, scene i

Comments

I agree completely. And I'd just like to say that your guys never seem less than believable to me.

::sends hugs and a virtual hanky for Kit::

Maybe...

...It's a talent. Like being able to do it right ::grin::
I think it's reporter's fear. If I'm dealing with real people, I feel an obligation to get it right, by which I mean not "rings true", which I feel about any story, but "factually accurate". And not just the facts, but the facts in the right proportions to each other. I feel inhibited from distorting or distilling the character for my own purposes. Doubly so if it's in a direction I don't think they'd approve of.

Any creation of a character involves a leap of faith and empathy which can't be verified. I may come up with someone who fits all the observed facts and makes sense as *a* living, breathing, motivated human being. But I'm not going to come up with the same personality that the real one would have had. And when it's a real person, and a real famous beloved person who other people have passionate opinions about at that, the weight of getting it culpably wrong hangs too heavy on me. I play it safe and try not to say anything anyone would object to, try to let the historical record speak for itself, but of course even the most thoroughly documented person alive is bare bones indeed. It doesn't work. They come out flat, and disappoint everybody but enrage none.

This is, of course, why I don't write historical fiction. I don't even like real world settings if I can avoid it, since I can feel guiltily responsible for misportraying the landscape. I'll admit to being a little boggled as to why people who can't get over this do. But maybe it's erring in the other direction: those bare bones speak so to them that they don't realize how much flesh they need to add for the rest of us.

Mer

Oh my

That's *brilliant*.

And I think you've got it exactly right. Wow.

Re: Oh my

*blush* Thanks.

Or, you know, they're not very good writers. That could be a thing too. Sometimes I make things more complicated than they need to be.

What I really don't get is people developing historical characters who seem to feel the need to run directly counter to what we know of the person. I run into this all the time when trying to read mysteries with various famous personages as the detective. I always end up throwing the book across the room yelling "Beau Brummell would never do that!" as if the Beau were an old friend of mine.

Mer

Re: Oh my

I always end up throwing the book across the room yelling "Beau Brummell would never do that!" as if the Beau were an old friend of mine.

I fully expect the Oxfordians to be burning crosses on my lawn if I ever sell this thing.

But I can't help it! Edward de Vere was a prick!

Re: Oh my

Heh. I have no idea who that is, so I'm content to take your word for it. :)

BTW, did you see that Mitzi Szereto is calling for submissions for an anthology of erotica (to be published by Cleis Press) featuring famous historical characters? Dunno if you're into erotica but I figured it was worth mentioning. I found it in dakinigrl's live journal, and besides submitting a story myself, I've been suggesting it to various friends with historical bees in their bonnets ever since.

Mer

Re: Oh my

I have seen that. And it looks like a lot of very good people are submitting to it--I just don't have anything appropriate.

Re: Oh my

I think that's what paralyzed Tim Powers in Declare: he had TOO MANY FACTS about Kim Philby, and he got completely obsessed with fitting them all in. And thus, to me, the book feels like a wired-together compendium of trivia. Same problem I had with Expiration Date.

Powers writes historical characters brilliantly as walk-ons; it's one of the things I love best about The Anubis Gates. But lately, I think that bear's been on top.