Saturday 16 June 2012

Historical Fiction vs Historical Fact - Part 3

Pt 3: The Philosophy

So what am I saying in all of this?

I’m not taking sides. It’s not: “Fiction is EVIL! it’s escaping reality, a waste of productive time and money.”
Neither am I saying: “Fiction RULZ! Let’s throw out all the dry ol’ text books and science manuals and rewrite everything as an exciting narrative!”
No way, José! We need ‘em both.

 As a horticulturalist and a writer who’s fascinated with metaphors, I look at life like a tree:

The interaction of roots and soil together can be likened to facts, scientific observation (when it’s done properly), data, laws of the universe (physical or spiritual) ………. all of this stuff is the foundation for our lives, keeps us steady ‘n stable through the storms, gets the life flowing in us, what we draw from as the source of basic life. They are something to fall back on when the top of the tree falls.
They’re not much to look at, often kept out of sight.
But your tree is a goner if your roots are cut off, die or shrivel. Writers must remember this as well.

Leaves represent what we manufacture from what our roots provide, plus what we draw from our environment. This could be seen maybe as statistics (when they’re collected thoroughly and interpreted in a scholarly manner), rules of the game, history (when it’s accurate!), laws of the land, policies, procedures, norms etc. I would like to suggest that these are also our real stories, our character, what we truly are and characterized by. Sometimes attractive, sometimes boring, sometimes seen but taken for granted. Writers use this as their source material. Successful writers can turn a boring leaf into something interesting, at the very least.

The trunk and branches, I think, represent the infrastructure, the way we communicate and organize the facts so we can get them where they’re needed. Good writers, teachers and management sytems can be included in this. Breakages in this area can be disruptive, but we can get up again and recover.

But what’s the point of it all if we don’t produce flowers?  The flowers are the romance of the tree, the “Wow!” factor. I like to think of it as representing the arts, the media …. the writers ….. our dreams and aspirations ….. recreation. Without them, our tree looks bland, no matter how functional it is. They inspire and motivate us to keep growing, much more than our roots or leaves could ever do. Yes, the flower can be deceiving at times, but it represents the beautiful side of life and people …. or at least, the way life could be. That is also the role of the fiction writer.

But there’s no ultimate purpose to the whole thing no matter how attractive or romantic our tree is, if there’s no fruit produced. Flowers are only the promise of fruit. It deceives us if it doesn’t deliver what it was created for. After we’ve gotten over the Wow-factor, after the honeymoon and the party’s over, we want to see that it’s all been worthwhile. The manager looks for the bottom line dollar, the ROI. But most of us, if we are true to ourselves, look for happiness, a full life ……. FULFILLMENT.

It’s that divine spark within us that cannot be truly quenched. We’ve seen it right throughout history.
Us fiction writers need to have a purpose, a goal in our writing beyond just the romance, important though it is. Is money the ultimate fruit? Is it fame? More stuff? A few of us get these, but then what?

How about things like:

  • Leaving our readers with a sense of hope (NOT illusion) for the future?
  • Giving our readers an appreciation of those who forged our past, our roots, where we came from, inspiring them to walk the same glory-road?
  • Graphically warning our readers of the mistakes and bad choices of the past, so we can hopefully learn from them? It’s been said that one thing we learn from history is that mankind never learns from history. At least we can inspire some of our readers to change that.

As a historical novelist (have a look at “The Poor Preachers”) , I like to think that that’s what I’m doing. If I get that kind of feedback, I'd know that I haven't wasted my time.

Romance? YES.
Facts? Mostly, wherever I can get them.
Make money? It would be nice, but not my ultimate fruit.
Fame? Well…. Let’s wait and see…. But don’t hold your breath!

More next week….

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