Saturday, July 28, 2007

Historical vs Fiction

This week I am proud to say my story The Owl & The Eagle is really moving along. I got a lot of work done (which can be tricky with a full-time job) and the novel is really starting to solidify. The only problem is that a major plot point in the story didn't happen according to Herodotus. It's nothing silly or magical, and ties several people and events together rather well, but I still can't help but feel a twinge of guilt. I mean, if it really happened (Themistocles being shipwrecked on Aegina) you'd think someone somewhere would have reported it. I guess that's why my genre is Historical Fiction, but I still feel like people will frown on it. What say you? If you know Herodotus (or Greek history in general), would you mind a bit of tweeking to history for the sake of a more interesting story?


Carla said...

For what it's worth, my take is this: I draw a distinction between changing something that's recorded (which I don't like) and interpolating something that isn't known (which is what I think historical fiction is for). So taking your example, if there's information in one of your sources that means the shipwreck couldn't have happened - e.g. Themistocles was known to be somewhere else at the time, or is known to have never visited Aegina - then I wouldn't like it being used as a plot point. But if the sources don't mention anything about it and don't rule it out, and it's credible for the time and the character's known behaviour, then I'd say it's absolutely fine to use it. I'd also say in the Author's Note at the end of the novel that there's no evidence that it happened and you invented it, just to be straight with the reader.

Wynn Bexton said...

I agree with Carla. Just because it's not recorded doesn't mean it couldn't have happened at some point in Themis' life. However, Aegina is a small island very close to the coast of Attika. I think I'd choose an island farther away or, have a darn good reason for the shipwreck -- maybe a terrible storm blows up unexpectedly while he's sailing to the port of Pireaus. And, as Carla says, make sure he isn't historically recorded to be elsewhere at the time this supposedly happens.

Megumi said...

Happily (or not?) Herodotus says very little about Themistocles' whereabouts before the actual war breaks out between Persia and Hellas. Later authors add stuff to his story but again nothing specific about where he was a year before the war. He's also only stuck in Aegina a few days (to be more specific he's arrested, then let go). The scene ties in a number of historical things that ARE mentioned by Herodotus, but since a lot of characters sort of just pop up I was trying to add an explanation (and a bit of spice) to my story. Does that make more sense you think? No?

Wynn Bexton said...

Hi Megumi, OK the way you've described it happening sounds pretty logical so I'd go with it.

Excalibor said...

(O My) Queen, :-)

Do you really think our primary sources are actually telling us what was really happening at the time? I'm sure you don't, specially because we have lots of primary sources that contradict themselves, and in our field everyone loves to hate Ktesias (who's probably the biggest recorded liar in Ancient History)

They weren't really making Historiography (a Science) but they were telling, to a highly educated and selected readers, what they wanted them to know. Take the Egyptian Expedition, one of my WIPs: Thukidides barely mentions the Delian League loosing +240 trirremes against the Persians ca. 456 BCE, but that was a huge loss and it actually shaped the political landscape for the following years, probably well into the Peloponnese War itself.

I guess you varely mention a huge defeat, and a small victory becoms a huge victory against impossible odds (like, say, 300 vs 1,000,000? :-)

They are our sources, and we have to use them, but they had their own agenda, so they are only that trustable. If something recorded is downright wrong, I change it to something more reasonable, based on current knowledge, etc: if I haven't read it anywhere (it may have been recorded but I haven't had access to a publication, and damm it Jim, I'm a writer, not a historian) then it may have happened (I just try to be as realistically plausible as I can).

Anyway, write so things are clear to your readers, and if you have to beg some pardon, do it at the end ;-)

best regards!

Gabriele C. said...

I agree that if it's not in the sources and not contradicted by them, make things up. That's the fun of writing historical fiction instead of boring ol' biographies with lots of footnotes. :)

I also agree with Excalibor in not trusting the sources too much. I deal with Tacitus a lot, and boy, did that man have an agenda. More than one, lol.

Megumi said...

Thanks guys! Your comments are super helpful and I've decided to keep the scene in since it's so important. :)

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