A historian and novelist’s musing on history, fiction, and a milestone date.
The guns on the Western Front stopped firing one hundred years ago today. I am one link away from WWI, in that I have a friend and a supervisor who both knew relatives who participated in that conflict.
In some ways, the century that separates us from the end of WWI is amazingly short, because of the longer lifespans that developed in part because of medical technology and practices that arose from warfare in the 20th Century, and in part because of the documentation of that war. In other ways, it is hugely long. The world changed far faster between 1918 and 2018 than in most of the rest of human history.
A schematic of a patrician’s home/ware-house in the Hansa Museum in Lübeck, Germany. Author photo.
Well, that’s what all writers do, isn’t it? We get inside the heads of fictional people and other critters, find out their motivations (or give them some) and then see what happens. Right?
But what if you need a character with a mind that works in a very different way from yours? Read more
We’re late! We’re late! For a very important date! Or post on MGC, anyway. We are not late yet for taking off on a research trip, which is going to involve multiple museums, and a good chunk of the trail that Walt Ames is going to travel with some horses back in 1870-something (Peter could tell you the exact year. Just as he can tell you exactly who was in command of every little border post and fort, and when they left on the trip, so Walt Ames can do a deal that’s more amenable with their fill-in…) Read more
The European Union has approved new copyright laws on digital content. They are to protect content providers from piracy and abuse of copyrighted material.
Sounds great, except…
You’ve done all the research. You’ve mapped out (literally perhaps) your new world, and have crafted a story worthy of a Dragon, several other awards, and lots and lots of Benjamins*, but your alpha and beta readers say, “I’m just not feeling it. I can’t see your world.”
What went wrong?
Details. You need enough detail to make the world real, especially real to the characters who live in it, but not so much that the reader drowns. This is, alas, no longer the 19th Century and we can’t go on for pages and pages about fashion, food, or other things. Unless it is critical to the plot, or you are writing a milieu novel, and even then, see “the problems of the unrestrained info-dump.” Read more
I ‘ve touched on this before: to supplement my own experience, I make shameless use of relatives, friends, friends of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. By now most of them are used to this and do not get (too) weirded out by questions such as:
“If you were going to (non-fatally) shoot the pilot of a plane to encourage his cooperation, what body part would you choose so as not to interfere with his ability to fly the plane? Or would it be better just to kill the co-pilot?” Read more
I’m damned sure I’m not the only reader who has hoped there’d be just a few more pages… (if you’re a writer who doesn’t read – trust me, you’re doing wrong. Like deciding to have babies without all this DNA sharing stuff, it doesn’t really work well, unless you’re a newt. Those sort of books work well… for parthenogenetic newts.)
Of course I wanted a few more pages to JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings at about 450K and to Louis L’Amour’s Flint at about 45K.
It wasn’t actually a specific length I wanted – just more of a book I had enjoyed. Read more