In bits and pieces wrested from the jaws of deadlines, I exchange emails with another published author friend of mine. One of the things we discuss, as historical fiction-with-romance writers, is the nature of our relationship to history, romance, and writing.
Here are three types of writer. I'll tell you which I am, and then I hope you'll tell me whether you fit one of these types, or whether you're something else.
This is me. My passion for history drives my writing. I realized this all over again last week as I went to a library and a museum to start research for a new, short-term project (a historical stage play). For the first time in over a year, I felt a true thrill and a passion for my work as a writer.
The study of history reveals the realities beneath today's surfaces. It brings me stories that reveal the interconnectedness of all of our lives, and the greatness of the divine plan throughout time. When I start researching history, my mind comes alive. The combined analytical and creative challenge of turning real history into fictional narrative is my specialty. It's one of the few activities in life that can demand intense work from every neuron I possess--and it's an endeavor important enough to make me want to go to the effort. (Certain strategy board games could challenge me that much too, if I really cared that much about the outcome, but I play board games in a more relaxed way, for fun. :-)
When we History-Writers run amok, the scary result is a novel with pages and pages of real history so dense it makes eyes cross--or historical explanations out of the mouths of characters that sound like the author just stepped in as narrator.
Well-known historical romance author Julie Lessman wrote this blog post. She discussed her dislike of research--the same research that makes me glow and gives me all my motivation to write. Yet, Julie and I write in the same genre. What gives?
Julie is a Romance-Writer, as she recalls saying to her agent in this post (and her fans will tell you she is very good at writing romance). Historical research doesn't float her boat: telling love stories does.
Now, I can't speak for Julie, but I'll tell you some more subvarieties within this type. Some Romance-Writers find they like the trimmings and fringe benefits of historicals (pretty dresses, behavioral conventions, true gentlemen!), but they don't like all the research and the feeling of "constriction" that results from the need for a writer to avoid anachronisms. Other Romance-Writers *kind of* enjoy writing the history, just as I can *kind of* enjoy writing romance when necessary. But that doesn't change the nature of the true driving force behind an author's work.
Romance-Writers have their weaknesses too, of course, and one of the key signs of an untamed Romance-Writer in historicals is those vocabulary errors and other historical inconsistences that a good editor should catch. An untamed Romance-Writer in contemporary fiction may stretch the bounds of credibility too far in order to give us an interesting twist on the boy-girl story.
I know a few writers who are not very motivated by content. They're passionate about the writing itself. These writers tend to gravitate toward literary fiction or toward the looser genres, such as women's fiction, so they can 'play' more without having to adhere so tightly to the conventions of a genre. That looseness can have advantages and disadvantages. Playing outside conventions can produce brilliance--or it can produce a story that doesn't cohere and satisfy the reader. Sometimes, this kind of authorial playing by Writer-Writers can create a fantastic novel that is nonetheless very hard to sell because publishers are scared of the unknown. But other times, if Writer-Writers aren't disciplined, their writing can become self-indulgent and overdone. This happens most often in literary fiction, but I've seen it happen in the less lofty genres too. But more on that next week.
These three Writer categories aren't mutually exclusive, but I hope you will join in and tell me: what is your driving passion? Do you fit into one of these three types?