A Fractious Duo: The Historian and the Fantasy Novelist
On one side, I am a historian. I gleefully record dates, names, and important events, carefully wrap them up in concisely constructed sentences, and then lovingly footnote, taking pride in how pretty my neat little citations look in their tidy rows (okay, I admit it, I’m sick). I build coherent arguments, making certain to give as many of the facts as possible to back up my conclusions. I research until my vision grows bleary and my contacts stick to the inside of my eyelids . . . and love it!
And then, one day, I sat at my computer and started writing fantasy (?!). Conflict between Stephanie the historian and Stephanie the fantasy writer was inevitable. When I proudly read the first draft of the first chapter of Sidhe Eyes aloud to my friends, I was caught off-guard by the response: “Stephanie, you’re being a historian!” Apparently, Stephanie the historian was diligently working to give the reader all the facts, at the cost of suspense. In short, I started out writing fantasy exactly in the manner one would write a history book. A story requires a level of suspense to maintain reader interest; a history book requires facts which feed their knowledge and keep them turning the pages to learn more. A marriage between the two . . . well, it’s dry enough to use as a fire starter on a camping trip.
About a month later, Stephanie the fantasy writer got her revenge on Stephanie the historian for her interference in Sidhe Eyes. A paper that I had handed in to a professor came back with a large red circle drawn around a horrendous breach in proper writing which I had committed: I put a contraction in a formal history paper, for the first time since my freshman year of college. My professor was mystified, having never before seen such a mistake in one of my papers (honestly, this really really is a big no-no in a formal paper). I, too, was mystified, until I read over another history paper in progress and realized that my tone was far more conversational than normal. Additionally, I was now subconsciously attempting to make my history suspenseful. Writing fantasy now affected how I wrote history!
Things really really came to a head over these past six months in the ultimate showdown of historian vs. fantasy writer. The historian wanted (well, needed actually) to write her thesis, but the fantasy writer desperately wanted to work on stories! I tried to affect a compromise between the two, but that didn’t quite work. Somehow, my brain kept crashing whenever it needed to switch between American secret agents in Turkey during World War II and the ongoing troubles of Edric and Flavia in Glemaria. My thesis chair kept complaining that my writing was losing its conciseness and kept yanking out stories that I felt were charming and that he felt were superfluous — no matter, I’ll just use them for inspiration in my fantasy! My fantasy, as we’re all well aware, is of course well-footnoted.
In the end, I’m sure that fractious duo fighting for supremacy in my brain will eventually either make a charming anecdote at dinner parties or a thrilling project for a team of top psychiatrists, who will then go on to write the next groundbreaking study based on me.
Posted on April 24, 2011, in Fantasy, History, Stephanie Thompson, Writing Hints and Helps and tagged Edric, fantasy novelist, Flavia, Glemaria, history writer, Sidhe Eyes, Stephanie Thompson, Writing Fantasy, writing history. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.