Sunday 24 June 2012

Historical Fiction vs Historical Fact - Part 4

Part 4: Realism vs Idealism

Next, I'd like to discuss an underlying and common, though often unacknowledged debate between the Realists and the Idealists when it comes to fiction

At one end of the continuum we have the rose-coloured-glass-wearing, starry-eyed, tree-hugging, glass-half-full romantics....
At the other end are the skeptics, the survivors, the pessimistic doom-sayers, cynical, glass-half-emptys.....


…..though most of us are distributed somewhere in between, and occasionally change places depending on our life-experiences and personalities. Most of us find that representatives from either extreme are either annoying or depressing, so I'll leave them for the moment.

Idealism in fiction

This element tends to be more popular among fiction readers and movie-goers than realism, for reasons I've already discussed. It has had a long tradition in the history of reading, and other media, and doesn't appear to be dying by any means. Most of us still look to a happy ending, and feel cheated if the bad guy gets the girl, the hero loses or comes to an ignominious end.
A sad but honourable death for the hero? Yeah, that’s OK… sometimes….  provided he died for a noble cause, his death brings the bad guys to their knees in remorse, a memorial is raised for perpetuity, his kids/followers are inspired to carry on his battle for freedom, justice etc etc. That leaves us feeling uplifted and a bit teary. But … Yeah! That was a good read/movie, that was!

Taken too far, however, idealism leads to over-sentimentalism (my daughter calls it “Mushiness”) and predictability. I think of the TV series in the 50s, the Cisco Kid. Cisco always outshot, out-fought, outwitted the bad guys,; there was always a seƱorita to flirt with but leave; there was always a chase where Cisco jumps from his horse to bring down the bad guy; and the latter were always such lousy shots! Us kids loved it for the first 100 episodes, but then it began to pall.
The Scarlet Pimpernel was one of my favourite reads for a while. Baroness Orczy did a good job, I think, but looking back, even my own sentimental tummy turns over at some of it. I don’t like dairy-milk-coated sugar candy any more. One’s taste changes (Matures? Possibly) with age. Romance and larger-than-life characters will never die, I believe, but that all has to be balanced.

Realism in Fiction

Obviously, realism is like adding salt to our meal, and choosing savoury from the menu rather than sweet. Even the sentimental-leaners like myself like a taste of the “Real World”, and acknowledge the tragedies of life, the fact that we live in an imperfect world. The reality check is not always unpleasant.  I’ve read many a historical novel that ends with the survival of the fattest, the good guys defeated and in retreat, or exposed as fools or even just as bad as the bad guy – and enjoyed it, if it’s written well. We feel that it does us good to see a little bit of blood ‘n’ guts, thinking “Yeah! That’s how it must have really been. That’s how they really felt.”
My taste in TV viewing has changed more to documentaries than fictional drama. That’s quite amazing for a dreamer like myself.
The next series I want to write is based on a movement toward freedom that was brutally repressed. I hope to deal with it in an uplifting, not a negative manner, if I can..

However, I’ve read some reviews and blogs that object to too much blood ‘n’ guts, and they pine for a little bit of English Countryside in Autumn in an Old Fashioned, Charming Rural Village etc etc.
It can lead to depression. I don’t always finish reading/watching such stories. Why read this stuff when you here it on the News every night? I'm not alone in that attitude, am I!?

Where am I on the continuum?

I have to admit to being a bit on the idealistic side of the continuum, being a bit sentimental.
I started writing the "Poor Preachers" from that angle, and it served its purpose for the beginning.
I had a general interest in history from previous reading. I read history books, dry though they were, to learn about the history –makers of the past. Then I came upon Dr John Wycliffe and his Lollard preachers.
Suddenly, the glorious vision of noble and dedicated preachers defying the odds, enduring hardships and persecution to bring hope to the hopeless burst in upon my imagination. It  motivated me enough to start on the whole journey. It gave me the basic plan of the whole series still to come.
I must admit that the hero theme has been a major influence. I even added a nice gooey romance between a hero and heroine. I was on cloud V9.1.

Then my daughter picked up the first draft of my manuscript. She has been an amazing support and sounding board in much of my writing, and I feel that every writer must have someone like that in their life.
She leans somewhat on the Realist side. I guess you know what follows:
“Hey, it’s a great story, Dad, but parts of it did make me feel a bit queasy…….”
I came down to earth somewhat, but not completely.
In the ensuing revision of my revision of my revision, I “de-mushified” the more sentimental sections, even dropping a scene or two. (But I still insist on having my romance in it somewhere :-P ) But that may change with time. Who knows?

So…..Where are you on the continuum?

All comments are welcome, provided they’re not too sentimental or cynical…..

1 comment:

  1. An excellent comment from Bobby Wayne Fiction
    ( :
    "Boldness! I like that! Dare to venture into John Wycliffe in that way :) It's still fiction and I like Queezy. Truth be told, that's probably what your readers want rather than being bored to death in historical fact. (Was Lincoln really a vampire slayer? Lol!!!) If Christian fiction I believe the main question is are we delivering hope in the Christ or properly addressing a christian principle? (Of course this is coming from someone who is attempting to demonstrate the consequences of sin through an undead mechanically altered lab rodent that runs chaos and terror to a local church-so what do I know) :/"