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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Will Shove This Square Peg Into A Round Hole



One of the pitfalls of writing historical fiction is that you have to stick to history. (Well, I suppose you could ignore it, but then you'd really just be writing fiction).

I knew the entire history of my first novel before I sat down and started writing. I've been obsessed with Hatshepsut for more than a decade so it was just the nitty-gritty stuff I had to look up. Like...

Did Egyptians have springs? Nope!

Would Hatshepsut write with a pen or brush? Brush!

Were peacocks around during Egypt's New Kingdom? Yeppers! (Introduced by foreigners, but I'll take it!)

And yes, all these little details matter to history nerds fans. I'm sure I made mistakes, but at this point they should all be minute and only Zahi Hawass is going to call me to the carpet on them.

However...

I'm researching as I write Book #3. This woman's story is fascinating, but she kind of sideswiped me from out of no where. I have an outline of her life that I'm following for the plot, but I'm filling in the blanks as I go. So I read a number of secondary sources and finally got the first chapter all shiny and perfect. Yay!

Then I read a primary source about her early life from someone who knew this woman. I had it all wrong. TWO little words completely mucked up my first chapter.

So I had to rewrite it.

*bangs head into keyboard*

I am now working to force the facts into the premise I've based the entire first third of the story on. But I think I've learned my lesson.

Research first, then write!

15 comments:

whisper said...

Ah, as John Adams said, "Facts are stubborn things." :) I wish I was as diligent as you when it comes to researching (and adhering to) historical facts for a novel. I've attempted to write tales concerning Ancient Rome, the Aztecs, and the Titanic, but in each case I swiftly tire of the research in my eagerness to rush ahead with the plot. I suppose this does not make me a very good historical fiction writer... this is probably why I enjoy writing fantasy so much. *muses*

But I digress. :) Anyway, good luck with the rewrite of the chapter! By the by, I've been following your blog for quite some time now but haven't stopped to comment in a while... just wanted to let you know that I look forward to the release of your book; when and if it is published I will be sure to hunt it up. :) I long for a good Egyptian tale!

-whisper

Melissa said...

That's crazy! I'm sorry that happened but at least you caught it before you got to far into the story, right? Good luck! I wish you all the best in your rewrite. Also, props to you for all the nitty gritty research you have to do. I guess that's one reason I love my fantasy so much. I make up the facts myself!

Gary Corby said...

I feel your pain. Primary means "read it first". Then read the inaccurate secondary sources, then read the ideologically biased modern sources. Not that I'm a cynic or anything.

Christopher S. Ledbetter said...

I do feel your pain as well. I wrote my entire first draft and had to go back and force *square facts* into round holes. Sooo been there, done that. But, on the other hand, I'm with Whisper on this one in that, even though I write in stories in classical antiquity I skew toward fantasy... without flying to far a field.

Cheers
Chris

Anne Gallagher said...

I hear you. I was halfway through my latest WIP and although I had researched thoroughly for the first book, I needed to find one little thing and when I did, it blew my timeline right out of the water. I had to go back in to BOTH books and change everything. Ugh! Live and learn as they say.

Susan R. Mills said...

Well that stinks! I guess it's a good lesson for us all. I have had a couple of little mishaps like that, but none were quite as big. Good luck fitting the square peg into the round hole.

Dangerous With a Pen said...

Ohh, research. Research is what's consuming me at the moment, and though I'm writing fiction I need to do all kinds of research about insects for my book because it's not fantasy. And there is...um... a LOT of information on insects out there. For me, it's coming to the point of "where do I draw the line and go with it" because what I'm learning is probably overly technical.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Yep! And that's a big reason so many of us stick to fiction. I admire your skills far more than mine! :-)

VR Barkowski said...

I'm another victim. The original premise for my second book was based on what I know, but I was advised stories revolving around museums and Nazi stolen art were cliche. So midstream I shifted gears, and the research began. It's taken over a year and my library has grown noticeably - including an 1881 page (I kid you not) memorial to French children of the Holocaust. Oh, and did I mention the research is has been heartbreaking?

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Eeks, that hurts. The trouble with both historical and scientific "facts" is sometimes they change with new discoveries or interpretations. That would suck to have something upend your premise. *sigh*

Elspeth Antonelli said...

As another writer of historical fiction, I learned long ago to get your history down before you start to write. However, it helps that my plot involves fictional characters and the real-life people are only talked about once in a while. But getting the attitudes, clothes, and surroundings correct took a great deal of checking.

Mark Noce said...

I feel your strife:) But the flip side is that this rewrite will make your chapter even more accurate and better as a piece of literature!

Liza said...

Hard lesson learned...butt such a good one.

Amalia T. said...

I feel for you, hugely. But at least with this rewrite you're sure to catch anything else that's awry? I'm not sure how much of a consolation that is though.

Generally I do a lot of reading of primary sources and skip the secondary stuff unless I'm desperate, and I try to do it before I start and while I'm writing (because research gets me excited to keep going).

Better to figure it out now than after you've started submitting it to places though!

WritingNut said...

Oye... I feel your pain.. I'm so sorry! On the bright side, at least it's not the ENTire novel :) I wish you the best of luck on the rewrite!