Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chronicles of My First Draft: The Chaucer Edition

A Knight's Tale is great, eh? I mean, it's about as historically accurate as the kilts in Braveheart, but it is sassy and fun.

My favourite character is Geoffrey Chaucer ( who is probably not even remotely like the real Geoff Chaucer); but is so fun and funny and has such flair and so many lovely quips.

"I'm a writer", he announces, "I give the truth scope." 
When writing historical fiction I have found that I have to hang my OCD on a coat-rack for a bit, else I would spend my entire life ensuring that every single detail is researched and cited within an inch of its life.

As a reader, I enjoy historical novels which capture the essence of a time period, laced with verisimilitude, painted with enough accuracy that I can feel the time period, sprinkled with factoids and little tidbits that make me feel I am learning something. I don't need every.single. moment to be perfect. For perfection and aptitude, I can go and take a university degree or pick up some wildly-long scholarly tone.

As a writer, I need to allow myself to write the way I read. I need to forgive myself for not knowing everything.   Granted 1917 isn't the middle ages and there are photographs and videos and first-hand narratives and headlines to be found. I am rather lucky in this way. In other ways I am not. The Halifax that existed---the Richmond that existed ( a neighbourhood I write extensively about which was annihilated into a devastated, snowy wasteland by the explosion) is gone.  I can read first hand accounts; but I will never be able to walk it or feel it or see it as it was.

I have to then rely on imaginative scope. I have to hope that eventual readers will flit the pages with a taste of what existed, may learn a few interesting facts that I extracted from research, will allow me a few mea culpas.

I pardon authors on this score all the time. Indeed, I am more turned off when authors intercept their historical narrative with superfluous facts about a time. It's so intrusive.  I don't want to cut off the flow as a writer; because as a reader that is something I despise.

As a reader, what are the things that you look for in historical fiction? What pardons do you make? 


Anne Mateer said...

And isn't that the most fun part of historical fiction? You can imagine yourself there and describe the parts where you have little or no historical evidence to go on however you want to in keeping with what you know of that time and place. It really is time travel. :)

Rachel said...

Anne, you are an author who EXCELS at infusing your work with the essence of the time period and balancing what the reader gleans is your imaginative scope with carefully inserted nuggets of history :)

Lori Smith said...

Wait - the kilts in Braveheart weren't accurate?

As a reader, I'm totally with you. Read a book recently that was set in the middle ages, and it was too accurate -- including lots of phraseology they probably would have used but that made no sense to me. As a result, it was a very slow read.