1. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    Historical Fiction based on unproven legends- choosing a theory, and running with it

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Caveriver, Jan 17, 2020.

    Looking for opinions on a predicament I find myself in:

    My plot follows two characters as they explore a (real) lost treasure legend linked to the main character's family. I have intertwined the real historical facts, places, and people with fictional characters, fictional locations (within real towns), and fictional plot events that drive the story. The idea is that as the characters sift through the real-life theories and historical events, they uncover the "truth" of the treasure, and go on an adventure to find it.

    There are three general theories of the treasure's origin/fate, all of which get varying degrees of support in the real world... SO, I basically had to do all the research and pick the one I thought a) made the most sense to me, and b) fit the best with my plot.

    Here's where I'm torn: While I'm determined to represent the facts as fact, I've also embellished them a bit for the sake of the story. I've added some aspects to the journey that lead the characters closer to the treasure. They are true to the time period, but I've made them up. On the one hand, if I'm writing the plot well, the reader won't be able to tell what's real and what's made up. On the other... the same thing.

    Am I going to embarrass myself, and do the legend a injustice by adding things to it? I suppose if anyone had ever actually found this treasure, I wouldn't have this issue. Then again, I wouldn't have much of an adventure story, either.

    Should I just go for it, being as true as I can where I can? OR should I dial it back, stick only with what is already out there, and hamstring my plot arch in the process?
     
  2. Maggie May

    Maggie May Active Member

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    It's Fiction. If you were not writing a fiction then you would have to only have the facts. Go for it. You aren't putting it forth as the "true story".
     
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  3. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm writing a time travel story that uses actual places and actual events to frame the story. It's not the same thing that you're dealing with, but I understand your struggle with embellishing facts. Just doing what I am, which (given the lack of historical information for the particular setting) involves a ton of research. I can't imagine taking it to the level you describe. My advice: give yourself space to write the story. That's what your readers want, not the facts. They're (probably) not going to use your novel as a treasure map, and will only rarely write you strongly-worded letters about how you took them in the wrong direction. :D
     
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  4. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    Thank you, this is what I'm hoping. After a conversation with my critique partner today, I am now playing with the idea of a very brief forward page that includes some sort of a disclaimer... Something along the lines of what they did at the beginning of the Leo DiCaprio movie Man in the Iron Mask. "Some of this is legend, but at least this much is fact -- when rioting citizens of France destroyed the Bastille, they discovered in its records
    this mysterious entry..." etc. It may make no difference to the reader (does anyone read forwards? I typically don't ...), but I think it would help me feel I'd warned them.
     
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  5. Caveriver

    Caveriver Active Member

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    I think I might find that oddly flattering!
     
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  6. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

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    I read forwards, and appreciate them. My favorite sci-fi author has a godlike character, Name Storyteller (yes, that's his name), who readily admits that the story he's telling is only partially true.
     
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  7. Kalisto

    Kalisto Senior Member

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    Yes, you can embellish facts. There are several good reasons as to why you would.

    If I were writing a fictional story centered around the assumed to be real, but yet to be found, Beale's Treasure, then I'm going to be taking quite a few liberties with the facts, simply there's just not that many facts to draw on. We don't know where the ciphers came from or who Beale even is.

    If I were writing a story inspired by the Masquerade puzzle, I'm probably going to embellish facts, because there's not a lot to say about that puzzle. It was a book a guy wrote with a cipher embedded in the pictures. So I would probably use it more as inspiration, but not as the story itself.

    If I were writing about the Zodiac Killer, I would take very few liberties. 1) it's an interesting enough case without the need to. 2) It's disrespectful to the victims. 3) I don't want to run the risk of glorifying the killer.

    How much is messing with the facts too much? Well it's a bit subjective but general rule of thumb is as follows: Humor has no rules. You can be as loose and as silly as you want. Pieces that you somewhat want people to take seriously, you should stop when you start to look like an idiot.

    For example, I read this piece by a person who was trying to pass off the life of Christ like it was a conspiracy by Satan. Okay, fine. But then he started making up stuff. For example, he explained that the reason why water came out of the spear wound during the passion was because the spear thrust hit the bladder. Well, that makes no sense, because 1) Christ would have been dehydrated as tends to happen when you don't drink anything for three days 2) he failed to consider other explanations such as ones that were given by actual physicians who have explained that blood is made mostly of water and that the only reason it appears red is by the presence of platelets. When platelets in the blood separate from the serum, blood will look like water. Which can happen in large quantities if the lining of the heart is ruptured. And on and on and on.

    In other words, he didn't stop when he started looking like an idiot. Rather than looking up explanations or learning how the human body worked, he just made stuff up. Later, after I grilled him on his inability to get basic Bible facts correct in his piece so he could properly argue them and take appropriate liberties with the material, he confessed he never actually read the Bible. (I'm bitter about him because he actually called me ignorant, even though I've studied with Biblical scholars and worked as a clergy.)

    So, in other words, if you understand the source, you're familiar with the history, you can take liberties that may not have actually happened, but they still fall within the character of the real people involved or the real events that did happen.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    You can certainly include an Author's Notes section at the back—I'd put it at the back so you won't be revealing spoilers—where you explain the instances you've deviated away from known facts. That way people know you didn't skimp on your research, or handwave convenient details, but that you used the real-life situation as a BASIS for your fiction.

    Obviously a fictional character will have a fictional backstory and may do things that no real person did, but when you tie these things into 'real' events, that turn out to be faked or partly faked, you can come across as if you don't know your stuff. To lovers of history, that can be really annoying.

    Readers who are particularly attracted to reading your story in the first place are likely to already have an interest and knowledge of that period of history. So they WILL be likely to notice if you've not been accurate. That's not a problem if you did it on purpose, and include your reasoning in Author's Notes.

    ........

    I write historical fiction myself. It has been very interesting to discover that, rather than making my storytelling more difficult, sticking as closely as possible to real history actually enriches my story. Knowing that certain things could not have happened—or did happen—gives me story ideas. It forces me to think outside the box of my anachronistic Disney brain, and engage with other influences as well. Some of my best story developments have come from realising I 'couldn't'do that,' or 'had to do that,' to remain true to the period.

    Limitations do create possibilities. Oddly enough.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2020
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  9. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    I'll give you an example - the Flashman novels by George MacDonald Fraser. They are based entirely on real historical events, and are populated with real historical characters - but puts a fictional character (Flashman) at the heart of them.
     
  10. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    @jannert - I'd be interested in how knitting shifted from a solely male pursuit to a solely female pursuit and why. Might you know?
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I wouldn't mind following up on that either. I remember the article mentioning that Queen Victoria liked to knit, but that knitting was then seen as a pasttime for women, kind of like embroidery. In other words, not terribly practical. I didn't see reference to how that changed. However, the article did mention that women started knitting serviceable garments (socks, balaclavas, etc) for soldiers during the various wars in the Victorian era and also WW1 ...and that returned knitting to more practical uses, which developed that way even more in the 20th century.
     
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  12. Steve Rivers

    Steve Rivers Contributor Contributor

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    I think just by the way you phrased the last part of that sentence is your own subconscious telling you to go for it.

    As for my own two cents,...

    Forest Gump, Indiana Jones, ..even real-life biographies like Bohemian Rhapsody, and the F1 movie Rush, countless examples in movies alone tell you embellishing the truth as long as it helps the narrative and doesn't detract from it is fine in popular culture.
    Hell, I remember that movie, err U-571 was it? That was the only one of these aside from Bohemian Rhapsody that got any real flack for distorting the truth, because it made out the Americans stole the first enigma machine in WW2 when in fact it was the brits, and when people lose their lives over something that you re-tell, then it becomes the murky grey area.

    So unless you're out and out re-writing the entire legend or myth, embellishing it like Indiana Jones does is more likely going to encourage people in, than discourage them.
     
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  13. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter Contributor

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  14. The Multiverse

    The Multiverse Member

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    Though it may feel silly, i'd suggest referencing the national treasure movies. Starting with something based in fact and then going where ever you want after that. You could literally have the MC get abducted by aliens who tattoo the secret treasure map in the MC's butthole and he doesn't know it until his proctologist finds it and shows him. Its fiction... If you are entertained by it, i gaurentee others will be too.
     
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  15. KiraAnn

    KiraAnn Senior Member

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    I say “go for it!”

    The movie industry never abides by any such restraint.
     
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