Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chrono Trigger: Good or Bad Historical Fiction?

I'm almost finished with the Marathon book, and hope to have a review up by the weekend, but in the meantime...

I love history. And I love historical fiction. AND I know that my Themistocles story is important to tell. I've felt that ever since I came across Berry Strauss' The Battle of Salamis five years ago. I've always wanted to read a book that really dove into the historical figure who made that battle happen. More to the point, I've always wanted to BE that person. Yet I keep getting stuck. Over and over and over again. Events happen quickly in Herodotus, and sometimes it's hard to get a handle on WHEN they happen. It makes my ficitonal autobiography all the harder to write. Yet I know that Themistocle is like Churchill: he would want to tell the tale himself, and he would want to tell the WHOLE story.

I've decided that in order to do just that, I'm going to have to go outside the box. Things are going to have to happen sooner. A LOT sooner. And sometimes out of historical sequence. The historian in me kicks and screams against this, but the author in me realizes that this is not only an easier way to write Themistocles' "autobiography", but it may also prove to be easier and more entertaining for the reader.

What say you, Gentle Readers? If Cleomenes' attack on Argos happened BEFORE Aristagoras arrived in Athens, would you be offended? If the events of the first Persian War took place in LESS than ten years, would you balk? Let me know in the comments section below!*

* Also 1,000 HP to the reader who gets the title reference. :)


Gary Corby said...

It's funny you say that about Themistocles and Churchill, because a few weeks ago I said pretty much the same thing in the author note for my second book in the series. The analogy is very close. Although Churchill of course never defected to the Soviets.

One thing that's been emphasized to me by multiple editors: telling the right story is much more important than strict accuracy. If you change the order of events a bit, point it out in your author note and sleep easy. (Having said that, I struggle enormously to stay totally true...)

My view: moving the attack on Argos forward is no problem at all. The ten year gap between Marathon and Salamis however should be maintained. Because a lot of the awesomeness derives from the foresight.

Mark said...

I agree. It's fiction you're righting first and foremost. You're simply making a more coherent story for the reader:) For instance, we know Troy is real now and that there probably was an actual Trojan War, but Homer condense the story in the Iliad to make it more coherent and understandable in a single tale. I feel that most historical fiction must make this leap in order to come to life on the page.

Carlton said...

No doubt better qualified people have already weighed in on this, but it does seem like sparse changes could be made for the sake of a better story (disclosed in author notes as Gary mentioned). While the struggle to keep things as accurate as possible is a just one, it seems that all too often when writers attempt to move from one medium to another they hold too rigidly to the confines of the original medium. This is generally at the expense of telling a more compelling story in the new medium. Since you're wrting historical fiction and not a historical textbook it seems reasonable that some concessions could be made.

I assume your title is a reference to the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross game series?

Meghan said...

Oh good I'm glad to know there's SOME room for creativity from fellow history buffs.

And yes Carlton, it IS a reference to Chrono Trigger ! ^_^ +1000 to you.

Gabriele Campbell said...

I have a somewhat similar problem in A LAND UNCONQUERED. There are six years between the Varus battle 9 AD and Germanicus' campaigns 14-16 AD in which not very much is going on. Tiberius strengthens the garrisons at the Rhine, parades his legion on the 'German' side of the Rhine just to show them Rome is still there, but there are no really exciting things happening.

Sure, I have a fictive MC, an officer who ends up prisoner of the Germans and upon his return is accused of treason by a rival, there's a wee bit of a romance, and some political intrigues that show the increasing cleft between Tiberius and Germanicus (which I can make up). On the German side Arminius tries to hold his allies together - but all in all that won't really cover six years.

So I'm just not very specific about the timeline. We sometimes know if a battle or something took place in spring or autum, and I leave it at that and won't give the years. Everyone should know 9 AD and I'm going to mention the date of Germanicus' less well known campaigns in the author's note, but for the rest I hope I can get away with some ambiguity here.

Carla said...

One way to skip over a period in which not very much happened is the time-honoured 'Six years later....' method. Do you need the events to happen in a different order, or just to compress the narrative?

Gabriele Campbell said...

Carla, some things ARE happening during those six years, just not enough to give every year it's own space, thus the timeline ambiguity in my novel. ;)

Charles David Eyer said...

I think it depends alot on your target audience and how important are the events you change. I strive for historical accuracy and have a timeline to provide a frameowrk. That said, I find a lot of wiggle room where historians aren't sure of the timeline themselves. For instance, the dates of the games in Nero's tour of Greece aren't known, so I have space for my poetic license to work with.