16 July 2007

Romanticizing the past...

My heroes, with only one exception, have all been spies. I've no idea why -- that just seems to be what they enjoy doing. This all seems well and good. Romance novel heroes frequently serve their country in this way and I never thought too much about it until I started doing a lot of in depth research into the history of espionage and learned that as a general rule, informers and agents were looked upon as the dregs of society, turning in info on their neighbours and often corrupt. Yikes! That's not how I envision my leading men.

What to do? I believe in sticking as closely to that past as I can while also remembering I'm creating a fictional world for my readers. Deborah Hale refers to this as "Walking the Historical Tightrope" and each time I panic, I refer back to her words of wisdom. Still, the historian in me continues to read as much as I can on spies from times past. One article by Clive Elmsley, "The Home Office and Its Sources of Information and Investigation 1791-1801," English Historical Review 94 (1979): 532-61) gives me hope -- he mentions that a history professor from St. Andrews University acted for the Home Office during my period. Yippee! Not only that, magistrates and post masters and mistresses also aided the government by monitoring the missives passing through their hands.

Still, in the end, a certain amount of romanticizing does seem to be called for when creating our heroes' occupations. And their heroines. After all, we rarely mention the lack of bathing, oral care, shaving and the other general nastiness of every day life in earlier eras, even for the upper classes.

So -- with what aspects of the past do you take literary license?



Camilla Bartley said...

That's why my spy characters are rarely "aristocrats" because I knew spying was not considered a dashing occupation prior to James Bond and Alias.

As for historical license...I can't pinpoint anything because I tend to steal plot points or character actions from my research. *g*

carrie_lofty said...

I take for granted their ages. Especially after finishing my first medieval, I just couldn't fathom how young these people would have been in real life. Thirteen would have been your 20s, with your 30s following close behind at age 16 or so. Here I am imagining my studly, brave hero--and the idea he'd have really been half my age. Ick. We'll just ignore that part...

PennyAsh said...

I do a lot of research on spies too having grown up with that sort of thing. One thing most spies also shared was a strong belief in their country and what it was doing, especially in the cold war era. I think spying is kind of the ultimate in nosiness.

Far as historical license goes I usually don't mention how filthy a lot of the past was, not just in personal hygiene but in their cities. Age is another thing, particularly if the characters are going to be in any sexual situations.

Michelle Styles said...

Historical license.

Hmmm, I know I used it on Roman women's names. But then I felt I could justify that and that the converse would have much worse -- the reader becoming confused.

I also accept Robert mcKee's point that ALL historical writing is anchronistic because the writer has never directly experienced the time period. Actually ALL fiction does not accurately protray life, because otherwise, it would be very boring.
The key is to be authentic. Does the world ring true with the vast majority of people? Does the story carry them along?
The biggest problem is the unknown unknowns -- the things you think you know but don't really.

Tess said...

Thanks for all the feedback :) And yes, McKee is right - the real key is the story and how well it transports the reader and pulls them in.

Liz (Frances Hunter) said...

One aspect of the past that we glossed over a bit in our book was the young age at which women got married.

Our hero, William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, is 39 in the novel. His young wife, Julia, whom he is really just getting to know and understand, is only 17. Nowadays such a match would get Will arrested.

Though we didn't change up the historical age difference, we didn't emphasize it either, and worked hard to eliminate the "ewww" factor.

Liz Clare
co-author, To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis and Clark
Silver Medalist, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards
website: http://frances-hunter.com
book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLNf3nalkbA