1. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Mixing Historical with Fiction and coming up with a mess of both...

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by ChaseTheSun, Apr 27, 2017.

    I'm coming up against a bit of a problem in the timeline of my WIP.

    As it stands, the MC is 23 years old in the year 1961. This means she had to have been born in 1938, which is one year before WWII began.

    I have been planning on using the 1967 Tasmanian Bushfires as a catalyst event in my plot. To use this historical event in the way I've planned, my two MCs must be 23 and 18 in 1961 (which they currently are).

    HOWEVER.

    I have also just lit upon an idea that would absolutely transform some crucial character building and backstory setting up for the MCs' parents, as well as to create the perfect doorway to explore social and cultural elements in post-WWII Australia. This would require the MCs' mother (Esther) to have been a war nurse from 1941-1945.

    But married mothers couldn't work as nurses in the war. But if Esther doesn't have her daughters until after the war, they won't be old enough by 1967 for the events with the bushfires to work in my plot.

    So my dilemma is this:

    I thought I might just pretend the '67 bushfires didn't happen and create my own bushfire event when I need it in the plot. But the '67 blazes were a devastating natural phenomonon that killed hundreds and took even more homes and farms. So if my characters live in that geographical area (southern Tas) and live through 1967 without a whisper of fire, it just seems inauthentic, incorrect, ignorant and disrespectful to history.

    I can't manipulate history's timeline and make the bushfires happen ten years later (when the girls are the right ages) because the firefighting equipment and the emergency procedures/building regulations etc would all be so different by then that the bushfires just wouldn't play out in the same way they did in '67. (And anyway; is changing the date really any better than cutting the event altogether??)

    I can't set the story earlier because my plot relies on the upheaval surrounding the Vietnam War protests and White Australia policy changes, which were only sort of really starting to gain traction in the early '60s.

    I can't set the story later because my plot relies on social stigma and secrecy around unwed motherhood, the pill and abortion, topics which were already starting to relax and become less stigmatised by the mid '60s.

    I don't know what to do! Thanks for reading this far. I'd be so grateful for any feedback you guys might have. Feel free to ask questions if I've been unclear about anything! :) :)
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Could Esther lie about being a mother? Of course, that would require her to walk away from her kids for four years, which would require some serious explanation.
     
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Second thought: Does the woman who was the war nurse and raised the girls have to be their biological mother? Could she be their aunt or a friend of their mother's who, along with her husband, adopted them after their mother died in the war? Or their father's second wife?
     
  4. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Oh yeah, so I was thinking maybe Esther's sister (already a mother of one child) could look after Eleanor and Cecilia (Esther's daughters) during the time she's away. And just have Esther lie to the army about being married, being a mother. But I don't know how well I could justify that to readers. Esther would have to either really hate being a mum or really love her country to make such a decision. Also, the second daughter (Cecilia) was supposedly born during the war, after Esther's husband returned home with a mortal injury that took him out of active service.

    The themes of adoption/fostering and child swapping are already HUGE in this book. They're the entire backbone of the entire story. But that's between ... well, I don't want to give too many spoilers away! Basically what I'm saying is I don't want to overdo the biological/adoptive confusion and complications more than I have to, because I don't want to start coming across as 'too unlikely' or 'convenient'.

    I guess she could be the step-mother (second wife)....
     
  5. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Don't let facts get in the way of a good story.
     
  6. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    But ... but ... it's historical fiction ... give me something more to work with here, Homer!
     
  7. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    Just throwing some thoughts out there:

    - Bring the ages of the girls down a couple of years and have Esther be a war nurse for just the first year of war; maybe she falls for an injured soldier and gets pregnant/marries him.

    - Esther works at a repat or camp hospital in Australia (would the marriage status matter then? I couldn't ascertain via a quick google).

    - Esther's close sister is a war nurse and Esther experiences the war as if she's there herself via sister's vivid accounts. Perhaps the sister dies in the war.
     
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2017
  8. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I like this idea. But I need Eleanor to have been married for at least two years to establish the infertility issue. Which would be hard to make work if she's only 19 or 20... getting married at 17 or 18 miiiiight have not been too far fetched at the time but I don't know if a modern audience will swallow it. Also I can't be bothered dealing with all the crap that comes with teenage MCs. I would rather the sisters are adults. Young, sure, but adults.

    I've tried googling information about such places and Google doesn't seem to have anything at all to offer. I don't know anything about these places!

    I was hoping to give Esther her own experiences in the war, to influence the way she raises her daughters and informs some of her current-day characteristics...
     
  9. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    It looks like there were army base/camp hospitals in all capital cities during WWII. I think after the war they became the repatriation hospitals for returned servicemen.

    But from what I can find the nurses had to be single to join the services, notwithstanding where they were to be stationed.

    Hmm, it's a bit of a fix isn't it.

    I found this interesting in view of your story:
    ( from https://www.brigitaozolins.com/bac-2017 )

    Wonder if you could plant Esther in those barracks but not as a nurse (if that would work for what you have in mind)?
     
  10. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I just learned about the Brighton camp this afternoon! In a remarkable coincidence, the geographical area that I had already decided (earlier this week) to plant my fictional town is only about ten kms away from Brighton, Tas. So I almost feel like it'll be an oversight if I don't include it somehow! :p

    It could be a tight squeeze with dates, but if I want to marry Eleanor off at 19 (after all, I got married at 19 myself, so not that unrealistic), that could give Esther time to work at a hospital in Hobart, nurse the soldier who has returned home from war with his leg blown off, with whom she falls in love, marries and bears a child to, all within a quick succession of about two years-ish. That would put Eleanor's birth date at around 1941, which is 2 years earlier than planned, and I'd have to start the story a year later than planned, but it cooouuuld work!

    I could also give up on Esther being in the services, but I'm not sure if there's any other way I could explore some amazing backstory and themes without it.
     
    ajaye likes this.
  11. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Fiction is the operative word in that phrase. History is boring (I know, I have a degree in it). Historical accuracy does not lend itself towards fiction. The readers don't care. Every historical novel is loaded with inaccuracies. For every reader that demands absolute historical accuracy there are hundreds that could care less. That isn't to say that you should butcher actual events willy-nilly, but if you have to fudge the date of the brush fire a bit or alter the woman's ages a bit to fit the story, do it.

    These two things are both negotiable, unlike your brush fire with is a rock solid historical event. I can't speak too much on either of them because I know nothing of Australian history, but what was the basis for the Vietnam War protests? Was it French involvement and decolonization? Otherwise there wasn't much to be protested until about 1965 (from the US perspective) and it really didn't get bad until about 1967 or so, but I suspect there's some Australian element in there that I'm unaware of. The White policy changes you mention are legal resolutions (I'm assuming) fixed to a date, but the issues and prejudices that birthed them must have been around for awhile. Racism doesn't have a birthday or an expiration date, if that's what you're talking about (I really have no clue).

    Regarding social stigma and unwed motherhood, well, how can you pin that to a specific time period? Did it all disappear after the mid 60s? Did all the people that had a beef with it in 1963 have a change of heart by 1968? Did abortion become awesome in Australia by 1970? And it's not like you're trying to sell currency inflation or the price of shrimp to the reader. Abortion and unwed mothers need no explanation. Everyone can understand those stigmas. Historical events are one thing, but social issues and ideology are timeless. They're not bound to a fixed date like the popularity of disco or Pauly Shore movies. They wouldn't be noteworthy if they were. No reader is going to throw the book down and scream, "There was no stigma about abortion and unwed mothers in late 60s Australia! It was accepted and popular! I wish I could have been alive then to have an abortion!!" Your brush fire maybe if you mess around with it too much, but you're probably fine with the other things.

    Which market are you shooting for here? I know 300 million plus Americans (and a bunch of Europeans) that won't care one way of the other. You might care, and I admire you for that, but the publishing game is about one thing and orthodox historical accuracy ain't it. History and fiction aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, but they're pretty damn close. People who want history read history books. People who want fiction read novels. I appreciate your devotion to history, but it will forgive you. Hell, most historians cherry-pick and lean on confirmation bias, so I as a novelist I wouldn't worry too much. It ain't that sacred.
     
  12. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    Is it imperative Esther have the infertility issue? Could it be elsewhere in her family?
     
  13. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    It really bothers me to think that a historical novel would have loads of inaccuracies. That really grinds my gears. Authors should care more!

    Yeah, that's what I'm saying. The protests only started gaining traction around the mid-60s. So I feel it would be hard to use them to full effect if I bring the novel back to the 50's.

    Of course you have a good point (not that you ever don't, Homer!) about not pinning stigma and prejudice into a specific time slot. I guess I just don't want to rely on specific attitudes to propel plot events if those attitudes were notably less prevalent in my chosen time zone. I mean, the differences in the stigma around unwed motherhood look drastically different just in the twenty years between 1955 and 1975. The hippie movement, "free love", the pill in '61, all of these things saw a lot of sexual liberation in the 60s and 70s.

    Which brings me to another question. Would country towns be better or worse at the stigma things? Would cities progress towards freedom more quickly than rural areas? If that's the case, I would feel more comfortable to bring in the prejudices and attitudes that I want to explore, even if my story is set a bit later, because the story is set in a small country town in rural Tas.

    I guess if nobody is going to notice then I feel better about just going for it. But if these things are going to impact on my story's believability then I want to honour that and change what I need to change to bring the authenticity back into the story.

     
  14. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    For society, yes, but not as far as your characters are concerned. Your characters don't need a historical timeline to personify stigma. It works in any context. Prejudice, stigma, and injustice are easy sells for the reader. It's a nice familiar line for them to follow. The key to writing historical fiction in my opinion is to know history's limitations. It's a great plot engine and has a lot of cool settings and props, but your characters still have to do all the work. You almost need to make the history fit the characters instead of the other way around. Not change history, but choose which facets you want to show and which to ignore. And you're talking about broad social and gender ideas that have been around forever. I don't think any of them will come off as a-historical.

    The alternative is to actually change history. Like the big brush fire, which anyone in the know will catch. Or eliminate the gag about Elanor's mother as a WWII nurse. Or keep it and explain the kids away. Have her hide them or fob them off as her sister's kids or something. Is that a rabbit hole you want to jump into?

    Straight lines, bruh. Ride your characters and the societal stigma. Your readers will need it to guide them through the history, which can get quite boring if you don't know which parts to manipulate.

    Oh, shit yeah it would be way worse in the smaller towns. Sherlock Holmes said that all scandals, crimes, and misdeeds were magnified in a village because everyone knew everyone else's business and even the smallest impropriety could harpoon a person's reputation. You couldn't hide anything from your neighbors. You'd do anything to keep a secret of something that might encourage stigma.
     
  15. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    Oh sorry, I misread it as Esther and thought you were establishing a genetic problem.
     
  16. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    I do not know if it just my ignorance, but I would not have a clue about those bush fires.
     
  17. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Could the mother have been a war nurse during the First World War instead? (It would make her a wee bit old to have a child born in 1938, but not impossible, if she'd been a very young nurse.) Or some interim conflict elsewhere in the world, between WWI and WWII?
     
  18. PirateQueen27

    PirateQueen27 New Member

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    You can give me a virtual eye-roll if this is a stupid question... but, could you change the geography a little and have the fire in the other location?
     
  19. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Weeelll.... I could. Technically. I would then need to create my own fire because I have planned to use the bushfire as a character in a major plot development. And it seems cheap to move my town and create my own fictional bushfire when there is already an historical bushfire that ravaged almost a quarter of the whole island in fell swoop.
     
  20. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    My parents married in 1941; rush job as my father had just been posted overseas. My mother then worked as a nurse in Liverpool; not services, but she would have dealt with seamen injured in the North Atlantic convoys.

    Could you have Esther and co. living up near Darwin? The Japs got close enough to drop a few bombs, and the navy would have seen a fair amount of action. That way, she could be a civilian nurse...is it essential that she deal with military personnel? And, if it is, can you not have the military hospital overwhelmed with casualties, so they farm them out to the civilian hospital?
     

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