Monday, December 10, 2007

Thinking Aloud

Famous bust of Themistocles (Roman copy)

I keep mulling over why it's so hard to write O&E. I think I've said this before, but I blame the time period. The early 5th century in Attica is a transitional period, which makes it hard to write about. To add to the frustration, ancient historians didn't always agree with one another, which means modern historians squabble about when things were invented, who did what and when they did it. This confusion makes it hard to reconcile certain "facts" in history and in my story.

This past weekend I finally come up with a plausible backstory for Themistocles, and even then I had to tweek some stuff. For example, his Archonship is traditionally dated to 493 BCE, but I push it foward to 483 BCE, because it makes his career easier to follow (and besides, Herodotus says that Themistocles had only recently came to power when he was in charge at Salamis!)

Anyway, this is what I have so far (keeping in mind it's still a very rough draft) :

Themistocles (son of Neocles) was raised by a single father after his mother--a foreigner-- died when Themistocles was two. The boy who's name means "Glory of the Law" lived in dire poverty after his father gambled away most of their money. The only way they could get by was to swindle the citizens of Athens by various monetary scams. Meanwhile Themis was influenced by the philospher Mnesiphilus and learned to appreciate the art of oration, which would help him later in the political arena.

When Themistocles was in his early teens he was a witness to great political change. In the late 6th century Cleisthenes established democracy in Athens, loosening the stranglehold the aristocrats had on power and giving it to the common citizen. Themistocles was so inspired by Cleisthenes he vowed to become a powerful politician himself. In the meantime he eeked out a living as an unsuccessful lawyer, until he suddenly landed a major case: Miltiades had fled Thracian Cersonese where Athens had a colony and was accused by the citizens of Attica of being a tyrant and put on trial. Remarkably, Themistocles managed to convince the jury not only to drop the charges but pursuaded them that Miltiades could be useful should the Persians ever attack Athens. When the Persians made their move not long after it was Miltiades who led them in battle. After the spectacular victory Miltiades tried to "punish" the city-states in the east that supported Persia but his mission was a failure and he returned home in disgrace. Men called for the death penalty, claiming that Miltiades tricked them, but once again Themistocles managed to change the verdict to a fine instead. Unfortuantly Miltiades died in jail and his young son Cimon was forced to pay the steep fine of 50 talents.

After making a name for himself as a lawyer Themistocles went on to work in the public sector until he gained enough popularity to run for Archon. In 483 he did just that and won by a landslide (some say a crafty scheme was involved). It was during his Archonship that Athens had a major windfall: a huge amount of silver was discovered just south of the city. Themistocles--using his political muscle, a little persuasion, and a lot of blackmail--convinced the citizens to use the silver to pay for a new fleet of ships. They agreed, though not without his enemies trying to ostrasize him. In an ironic twist he managed to get his enemies ostrasized instead! Meanwhile Themistocles increased the power of the Board of Generals so that he could join it after being Archon and continue to be a major influence. He also made sure nobody could have as much power as Archon again by pushing for the Archonship to be determined by lot. After a whirlwind year of change Themistocles go onto the Board of Generals where he continues to wield a surprising amount of power. But his enemies are determined to see his downfall. And for some, that means looking to the East for help...


Wynn Bexton said...

Is this just your outline for the character? It seems very thorough and I don't think it matters (according to what I was told at the recent writer's conference) to switch around dates unless it's something written in stone. If this isn't just an outline, but part of your narrative, I'd suggest breaking it up a bit and feeding some of the info into the plot, action, dialogue etc.

Yes, it's a bit tricky sorting out the ancient history because there are a lot of conflicting reports on it. I've had the same problem in my novel but gradually seem to be soring it out.

Wynn Bexton said...

PS I mean to ask if you've read Steven Pressfields "Tides of War" The way he's set it up is very interesting.

Meghan said...

Oh no, this is just a rough outline I made up pretty much on the spot. I was struggling to get the "facts" of Themistocles' life in order and so far this is the best solution.

I have both "Tides of War" and "Gates of Fire," but to be honest I couldn't get into the former. I didn't like it that much. JMHO of course, but I DO appreciate SP trying to tackle a war that spans 30 years and is quite involved.

As always, your comments are super appreciated! :)

Scott Oden said...

I think I'm the only person who liked "Tides of War". Almost as much as "Gates of Fire" (not a huge fan of "Virtues of War", though the battle scenes were excellent; "The Afghan Campaign" was . . . interesting. Not sure if I agree with the Vietnam-ization of Alexanders Eastern campaigns, but it made for compelling reading. Not enough battle scenes, though).

Good character sketch, Meg! How's the writing?

Meghan said...

"How's the writing?"

It's like banging my head against the wall, thanks for asking! :D

Actually part of it is my fault. Working at IGN gives me access to too many distracting video games so my writing kind of falls by the wayside. Bad me, bad! Luckily I'll have more time during vacation to get back on track.

Also, I think I'm getting a labtop for Christmas which will allow me to have a computer in my room that I can use to jot down notes, organize chapters, and write more in general.

But enough about me. When is LoC going to be finished!!!

Scott Oden said...

That sound is my head banging against a wall :) I don't really know why, but for the past month or more I have been totally distracted -- I spend my days dithering over this word or that, being sidetracked by small shiny objects, and worrying. Literally, 4 or 5 2000-word days will be all it takes . . . but I can't seem to focus long enough to get 20-words . . . it's uber-frustrating (and, most likely a lovely example of Pressfield's 'Resistance').

End of the month is what I'm allowing myself. Any longer and my agent and editor are likely to send out the corporate ninjas . . .

Gabriele Campbell said...

*hands out the aspirin*

Why is it that deadlines kill the muses? I need to write a short story until Jan 15, and haven't even started. Gah.

Wynn Bexton said...

I think I'm the second person (besides Scott) who really enjoyed Tides of War but I know from what Pressfield has said himself he wasn't as pleased with it as with Gates of Fire. So, you see, all writers go through these periods of 'doubt' and head banging. I've been banging mine the last couple of days just trying to plow through transitions. Managed to 'unstick' myself today and move forward. But here it is the season to be jolly and I'm probably going to be horridly distracted until after the holidays! Solstice on Friday and I haven't finished as hoped. But I'm a whole lot closer to the end and it won't be long. *sigh*