Fact vs. Fiction – Historical Novels

Persona is my first attempt at the historical fiction genre and while I love history, I found writing within the confines of known facts difficult. This isn’t too surprising given all my other novels are fantasy or science fiction, but it was still an eye-opener for me.

Take, for instance, the very first chapter of the novel.

Without giving too many spoilers, I can tell you that my main character – whose name underwent several changes throughout the editing process – is traveling to England. Young Megan Shepherd couldn’t stay home, not with her father breathing down her neck about the engagement she just called off, so she answers the call to help translate papers for the war effort in Europe.

The very first version of this novel had Megan in a big, noisy, military airplane.

Said airplane was shot down. There was a lot of action in that first chapter. It was exciting and fun and I loved it.

But …

Given that Megan is not in the military, she would not have been on such a plane. And even if she had been in the military, they did not often fly personnel like Megan to and from their respective workplaces.

SO … I had to change it.

Thus, the opening chapter of Persona has Megan on board a boat – the SS Ceramic.

And yes, that’s a real boat. I know the name is a trifle alarming. I’m not certain I would have boarded a boat called Ceramic, but it existed and it became one of the wonderful things I learned about while researching for this book.

Still, this serves as an example of one of the things History made me change about the novel. While I was able to stretch a few things elsewhere in the book or gloss over some of the others, I couldn’t risk losing the reader’s trust in the very first chapter of the novel. I had to find an alternative, something to show that I really had done my homework and that I was going to be respectful both to the history I was working in and to the reader’s intelligence.

I admit that historical fiction feels like more of a gamble to me than many of the other genres. When we’re dealing with science or fantasy, readers automatically walk into it with the sense that they are going to “suspend disbelief” for a portion of the book. They accept that they are walking into the fictional world and want to see what we can make of it.

Not so with historical fiction, and especially not so with something as well known and documented as World War II. While I need the reader to suspend disbelief a little, to accept that Megan Shepherd is not a real person, many of the events she walks through ARE real. And I had to treat them real.

Because people died there.

A lot of people died there, actually. And to treat it with anything less than the utmost respect would have been wrong.


Persona is scheduled to be released on May 2, 2017

 

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