Working with Historical Timelines – Persona Version

WWII is heavily documented. I have volumes and volumes of historical content that have helped me better understand how and why events took place throughout the war.

No, really. Volumes.

I also have several Documentaries on DVD which have helped shed some light on the timeline forAJMaguire-PersonaCover-1280h Persona and the general feel of what was rationed and what was needed and how transportation worked and …

You get it.

All this history is wonderful. I love history. It makes me all giddy inside to research it.

The feeling I get when I find something within my research that perfectly fits the story and adds another level of authenticity is … Well, it’s better than a stack full of York Peppermint Patties. (And I do so love York Peppermint Patties.)

I also hate history.

Discovering something in my research that contradicts the story-line I’ve created is frustrating to the extreme. I research as I go, so there tends to be a lot of revision precisely because of this.

Example: 

The original opening scene for Persona had Megan on a plane. But it was discovered that planes were generally only used for transporting military personnel and often the wounded for relocation, so it was more likely that she would have been on a passenger ship.

Insert weeks of research hunting for a passenger ship that, for plot purposes, had to be sunk. Eventually I found the SS Ceramic and there was much rejoicing.

Today I find myself in a similar pickle. The outline that I have ends Megan’s story on a very particular date because (without going into too much detail and spoiling the whole book) things happened on that date, in that place, and it brings her story a certain sense of cohesion.

However …

That date is several months away from the current chapter.

There are a couple of ways I can handle this and, as an author who really, really doesn’t want to miss another deadline with this particular book (seriously, I’ve passed several of them already and I’m not even sure why. I’m normally very strict with deadlines) I need to make my mind up by Sunday.

  1. I can rearrange the timeline of the whole book, extending Megan’s stay and bringing things closer to what I want. (Not a bad plan, though a moderate amount of work.)
  2. I can slow this chapter down, be all artsy-crafty-clever with the passage of time. (I’m not very good at this sort of thing, though. It’s an area I need to improve on.)
  3. I can ignore the historical timeline. (I don’t like this plan. I did all the research for a reason, after all.)
  4. I can stretch out the inevitable scenes at the end (which I can’t explain for fear of spoiling things) and lengthen Megan’s time in a very bad place. (Not sure I like this plan either because it draws out the tension too much at the end.)

So many choices. 

As an author these sorts of problems happen all the time. And I imagine when I tackle my Civil War story (likely sometime next year) that I’m going to have a lot of these timeline problems show up.

The core of the issue is that I want to have that authenticity, the reality of what happened integrated seamlessly into the work, but I also want to tell Megan’s story. Megan is fictional. Her story is about who she is as a person, not what happened during WWII.

With that in mind, option 3 becomes more visible. Although I’ve done the research, the research is not the book, and I think that’s really what I have to keep in mind here.

Megan is the story.

As the author, I have to decide which option tells her story best.

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