*** Originally written for The Odyssey Online in 2017. **
As you may recall from my previous posts, I am in the process of rewriting my novel, a love story set in the 18th century. I have always been a history buff and deep down, I think I always wanted to write a historical work, sans vampires or any other paranormal elements. However, I always thought it too difficult a project to tackle and far beyond my capability. At last, the itch grew too strong and I began work on one in earnest. Dedicating countless hours to research and incorporating that research into my writing has certainly been no cake walk, but it has proven to be a fascinating romp through yesteryear. During my journey, I have learned a few things.
I have discovered that many people have what I refer to as “pop culture” ideas of historical figures, events, and entire eras. I certainly did. Misinformation prevails and we often have partially developed ideas about the past and its people or downright incorrect ones.
History is frequently not as cut and dried as we believe either, especially when it comes to conflicts. Sometimes one side was downright wrong and were truly “the bad guys.” Sometimes both sides were downright wrong and downright horrible to each other and sometimes both sides had valid points and reasons for their behavior. There are many angles to be considered. Rather than being black and white, a lot of our planet’s past is a shade of gray, sometimes closer to black, sometimes closer to white.
2. Historians are NOT impartial.
As a bumbling novice, I assumed that historians, like judges are supposed to be, were impartial. They researched and reported on facts and that was all. But apparently, that is not what historians do–at least from what I have seen. These dedicated people do tons of research and then build a case around that research. Each historian has a different interpretation of the very same events or people.
As a storyteller, you will need to read widely to get a good grasp of the history you are working with. But, you will need to more or less take a side and even cherry pick facts to a certain extent. Align with the interpretation that fits your story best and run with it to build your own “case” and garner empathy and sympathy for your characters.
3. You will develop a galloping fear of being wrong.
We have all heard the hair-raising accounts of them. The dreaded nit-picky reader who will leave a one-star review or fire off an angry e-mail over a minor inaccuracy in a story. It doesn’t sound like much but one bad review or snarky message can shoo other readers away from your book or cripple your confidence in your writing ability.
You imagine this happening to you (after publication, of course) and it begins to hang over your head. Soon, you develop a phobia of screwing up your facts or even overlooking something entirely and making a complete idiot of yourself.
Yes, we are often accidental philosophers, analyzing and shedding light on the human experience, but at our core, we are entertainers. As hard as we might try with our research, we cannot and should not bill ourselves as experts or historians–unless that is literally your day job. I personally feel that we should strive for excellence in all that we do and make a solid attempt at portraying the world we are building correctly. But, at the end of the day, my work is still one of fiction, a world in which things have to make sense. My portrayal may be largely accurate, but should not to be taken as a scholarly dissertation.
My journey is nowhere near its end yet. I still have books sitting around which I have not finished or even cracked, and the learning continues–both historical and writing-wise. After two and a half years of research and writing and rewriting, I admit I still feel like an amateur. People may wonder why anyone would undertake such a difficult project when there is no guarantee of literary or financial success. For me, it’s a labor of love, born from a drive to write mingled with a fascination with humanity’s past. Hopefully, I will get to share it with the rest of the world.
Author: K. A. Moscatello
I am a longtime writer aiming for publication in the not-too-distant future! I enjoy writing about love in days long past, walking a line between historical fiction and historical romance. Currently working on the second draft of my novel set during the French Revolution. Follow my journey here and on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter: kmoscatello@kmoscatelloauth . Facebook: K.A. Moscatello, Writer View all posts by K. A. Moscatello