Friday, August 28, 2015
Heather’s post on setting as character, or character settings as I refer here, reminded me of a few of my own posts where I shared my frustration in the long hours of researching historical events. To summarize, I am so afraid of getting the history wrong, not because of the string of comments that would ensue after publishing (though scary), but because I don’t want to do my character settings a disservice…and do you a disservice, just the same.
I respect history. I want to use facts…maybe bend them...not break them.
Truth is: I know so little that I need to research so much. Indeed, some of my earlier draft works are more like fact listings – much to the eye-roll and yawns of reviewers. Noted insecurity. To counter this problem, I have been encouraged by some in my writing workshop to ‘evoke’ when in doubt. Yes, that is certainly fine. But, too much evoking leads to poetry. I want to have a good mix of both evocation and fact. I wish both my characters and my character settings to be intricately bound and memorable –and, of course, believable.
It takes great effort to make my list of historical facts and flat backdrops of scene to not only precipitate into a three-dimensional body, but also move through time. And that is why it is taking me 400 years to get my novels published: Character settings.
I want setting to come to life!
I enjoy writing historical fiction, not because historical events make settings easy with prerequisites and obvious facts, but because history and hidden history challenge me. With every writing session, I have you in mind as I develop my characters because I want both you and my characters immersed in the period and ruminating the possibility that what I recreated and recalculated are not only believable, but completely human. I don’t want to get the framework of setting so mangled that my story cannot keep your attention, or worse…will lose your respect.
For example, World War Two.
World War Two is too complex to serve as just one setting. The war had so many fronts, so many human layers of misery and hope and death and liberty for me ‘to evoke’ in one novel. However, my 400 year work of art tries to create character settings at a time in the war when Hell was firmly established. That time was one of the coldest winters in European memory, in the year of 1941.
Berlin, Germany is victorious.
The Thousand Year Reich conceives Germania. Rations are reasonable; French wine flows as certain as the belief that England will soon sue for an end to the war.
One million French men are held as prisoners of war. Many are commissioned to quarry the stones that lay the foundations of Germania. Jews are barely human; homosexual men cannot be cured; but lesbians can.
Paris, France is occupied.
The City of Lights smothers under a labyrinth of shadows. Coal is hard to find; heat is lost to the vacuum of empty apartments, courtyards, and streets.
Thousands of German soldiers invade Paris as tourists. Many follow the brochures created by the Nazis with suggested hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and brothels fit for their Aryan pleasure. Parisians are under curfew; many ride the trains to possess a sort of freedom. Many keep to their apartments and begin to fear the rapid steps beyond their door. Frenchmen have yet to return from Berlin.
A proudly French, sincerely homosexual, and inspiring artist finds himself living in Berlin, enrolled in the Hitlerjugend, and sequestering his nature for a resolution that he thinks will come any day…within weeks…certainly not more. He had fallen in love, or fallen in line, with an Austrian whom he met in Paris – a Hitlerjugend leader touring Montparnasse.
2015. Late Summer.
I have failed as a writer if I render the Winter of 1941 as a mere backdrop of Hitler, Swastika, empty Parisian streets, drunken German soldiers, and trains filled with loners. I succeed as a writer if you have your ear pressed against the door measuring the rate of steps on the stairs and wondering if, this time, they are coming for you. Or, is that just the Bannführer returning from his latest trade school recruitment effort?