Thursday, August 4, 2016

Authenticity versus Creativity

By Suzanne Morgan Williams

I have three projects “pending” in various stages of development. One is a fictionalized memoir. (yes, I finally said, “why not?” some of my life is pretty interesting and relevant.) One is contemporary research based fiction, and one – wait for it – is definitely historical fiction. The memoir is half done and resting. The contemporary has been out to a couple of editors and is waiting for revision. The historical is in that “hot writing” stage where, working from a very rough outline, I’m just writing to the end. I’ll see what I get.

But some interesting questions have come up as I work on the historical. It’s not only based on real people, but the plot is true too. That said, there’s precious little information about these people themselves. I’m totally creating their characters. As a writer, that’s good. It gives me flexibility and I’m quite capable of researching to make them believable, and fashioned to their times. This is historical fiction. But, they were real. There are documents about them and letters. So how much will my fiction influence any subsequent thoughts about these folks? Probably not much. But I’m thinking about it.

Maybe I should just change the names. But what I find fascinating is that the story, the plot, is real. Maybe I shouldn’t embellish the plot at all. It’s pretty good as it stands. But with a couple of other characters and some more confrontation the tension is better. With the addition of specific talents and traits that I’m assigning to them, the characters come alive. So I’m probably going to go for full out for historical fiction.

The manuscript will be true to its times. The setting, history, and some extent even the voices will be researched. But the characters – they are themselves. They will be molded from my ideas, my research, and good story. Is that wrong? Do I need to change the names? Can I manage with including an end note that explains what we know is true, what is probably true, and what I cooked up in service to the story?

For now, I’m writing the manuscript, but before I submit it for publication I have to answer these questions. Your thoughts?

1 comment:

  1. I think you are doing it right, and I think that very few writers of historical fiction, or even biography, do otherwise. If the characterizations you create for these real people leads them to do the things they are actually known to have done, your conjecture about their personality is as good as anyone's guess.