The Muse Marquee

Marquee Blog
Meet the Editors
Poppacrit's Den
Mother Hen's Bin
Up From Down Under
Worlds Apart
Between Writer and Pen
October 2009 Flashers
Flashers Archives
Poets Corner
POETRY Archives
Marquee E-Book Shop
Interview Archives
Marquee Bookstore
The Muse Marquee Ad Rates
Advertisers Links
Helpful Links
Worlds Apart Sept 2009

The Work of Writing VI



Immediately prior to our short summer break we had been talking about historical periods, settings, plot and conflict, all of which are important elements in historical fiction. The issue of plot is of course vital for all fiction, and it was in its relationship to plot that we discussed conflict. In the July column I pointed out that history is piled high with conflict, and that makes it relatively easy to find a plot, and therefore a story, that will attract and engage your readers. Having discovered such a potential story, however, what do you do next?


Let’s take an actual example. The Napoleonic Wars of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries represent conflict on a massive scale. War is conflict by definition. Within the ebb and flow of military adventures there are also innumerable conflicts on a level less overwhelming than the war itself. Political intrigue, disputes and disagreements amongst military leaders and the unfortunate lot of the common people entangled in the war through no fault of their own all form good story possibilities based on conflict.


But given these historical events were real, what is the difference between the work of fiction you want to create and a history textbook?


The answer to that question lies in a single word: imagination.  Through the exercise of your imagination as an author you are able to do what no historian can do. You make the historical context come alive through the addition of characters. Not all the characters need be fictitious of course; you can make use of real people, but even if you do you bring them alive by giving them a tangible personality, unique habits of behavior and speech and so on.


So, in our Napoleonic example there are innumerable opportunities to generate plots and stories, and once you have made your choice, your next task – to answer our earlier question - is to turn loose the power of your imagination. Many biographies and novels have been written about Napoleon himself covering the entire spectrum from military to romantic intrigue, but you still have an additional option not open to the historian. Through imagination you have the ability to give life to people who never actually existed, and in so doing you are able to create new dimensions to the war as a whole, to particular battles and campaigns and to the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.


That ability forms the basis of the fascination so many people have with historical fiction. Through this creative freedom, you, the writer, can literally bring the human dimension of historical events right into the minds of your readers and make those events real.


Staying with our example we can think of the best-selling novels by Bernard Cornwell ( which chronicle the personal adventures of a certain Richard Sharpe during the Spanish and Portuguese periods of the Napoleonic conflict. Richard Sharpe is an ordinary soldier who has the great good fortune to have an opportunity to save the life of the British Lord Wellington (later the Duke of Wellington), the supreme commander of the anti-French forces. In recognition of his heroism, Sharpe is given a commission as an officer and Cornwell follows his career throughout the war in a series of novels that were ultimately made into movies for television.


What Cornwell does is frame his stories within recognized historical events and populates them with colorful characters such as Sharpe himself and his friend Sergeant-Major Harper. The manner of his promotion, that is to say, the fact that he is not a gentleman, brings Sharpe into conflict with the officer class and even with some of his own men. Cornwell adds romance to the mix along with battles and vivid military action, stirs it all well and comes up with some of the best historical fiction of its kind. I recommend any of Cornwell’s books to anyone who wants to see how fictitious characters and events can be woven into wonderful stories set against the background of real, documented historical events and personalities. Cornwell brings all those momentous events down to a personal level.  He makes them live through the power of imagination.


Write on,