"What makes the poet the potent figure that he is, or was, or ought to be, is that he creates the world to which we turn incessantly and without knowing it and that he gives to life the supreme fictions without which we are unable to conceive of it."
Wallace Stevens 1879 - 1955 "The Noble Rider and the Sound of Words." 1942
Here's the dilemma: how much 'fiction' should historical fiction writers put into their work?
As a lover of history, and a writer of historical 'fiction', this problem frequently arises in my own writing. How meticulous do you need to be when writing from a historical plot? Where does the 'fact' become 'fiction'?
I'm in a retrospective mood these days, going over my past year(s) as we often do at the turn of a new year. How much is in my imagination, my 'fiction', and how much is 'fact'? I still find myself obsessing over someone who is now gone. How many of my memories are just 'wishful thinking' about what our relationship might have been? How many were actually true? (It took him until the week before he died to tell me how he really felt about me.) Too late. And I know if he was still here it would be the same old roller-coaster ride as before, never-ending, unresolved. So, I ask myself, is it time to move on? Do I want to let go of those romantic 'fantasies'?
I've always had a vivid imagination. I guess that's why I am a writer. I can write my dramas and live them through my characters.
Although in the writing (and endless research) of my novel Shadow of the Lion, I have tried to stick closely to 'facts' there are some areas where I have allowed my characters to take me on unknown and unexpected paths. For instance, I've invented a clandestine affair between Alexander's widow Roxana and one of his former generals, now the Regent of Macedon, Polyperchon. Logically I could see this happening, because Polyperchon is a soldier of fortune and opportunist. Why not get invovled with the mother of the future king, Alexander's only living heir? It would certainly further his ambitions. I know that historians and classical scholars will jump up and down and protest saying "It never happened. It couldn't happen."
Why not? Who knows? The histories were written a hundred or more years after Alexander's death, based on scant records by his Successors and usually favored the authors. Who says the ambitious young Queen Eurydike wouldn't attempt to poison Alexander's son? Her idiot husband, Alexander's brother, was one of the joint kings and she wanted to rule herself. In fact, historically, the boy was eventually poisoned by the agents of Alexander's arch-enemy Kassandros who wanted to destroy all of Alexander's dynasty. So who says there were not other attempts on his young life?
I've been struggling a bit with my recent writing because I know some of it is pure fiction. But my characters led me there and so, as a writer, I've taken poetic license to allow them to have their way. (Besides, it's a chance for some hot sexy love scenes, and any opportunity is welcome to provide a bit of tenderness amongst all the killings.)
Note: Here's were I live vicariously again. Oh...that imagination of mine!
The problem is, sometimes when I am 'making too much up' I start feeling as if the story is becoming contrived. This is the dilemma I find myself facing at the moment. Should I stick to the truth or not? And who really cares if I don't? Is it okay to let my characters have a little fun on the side without being criticized by the historians?
Okay, and for myself... Dream on. There were many beautiful moments in spite of the difficult times. He was a damaged man from all he'd been through and it was apparantly his nature to treat the ones he loved rather harshly. Continue loving him in spite of it. Who cares how much was just imagination?
"Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in the human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear lines persists. The strands are all there: to the memory nothng is ever really lost."
Eudora Welty (1909 - ) "One Writer's Beginnings" 1984 "Finding a Voice."