Last night, we left off constructing our short story with this question: Whose story is it? There are whole volumes out there on how to choose both the protagonist and the point-of-view character — not always the same thing. For instance, Sherlock Holmes was the protagonist of Conan Doyle’s tales, but Dr. Watson was the point-of-view character: everything we see concerning Holmes is filtered through the perceptions of Watson. Since we’re using third-person and multiple points-of-view, the question of who the POV character might be is largely academic — it will be whomever I need it to be in each particular scene.
But, who is the protagonist?
It could be Concini’s story: a tale of his rise to power and eventual downfall; it could be the tale of his wife, Leonora Dori, called “Galgai”: caught up in the machinations of her husband and her mistress, Marie de Medici. It could be Louis XIII’s story: a Shakespearean tale of a king seizing his birthright through guile and outright violence. Any of these, and many more besides, would make for rousing fiction. For me, though, it must be the tale of Richelieu: the young and ambitious Bishop of Lucon, Concini’s protege and a suppliant of Marie de Medici. The question I have, and it will largely fuel the plot of the story, is this: How did Richelieu weather this Machiavellian plot by Louis XIII to assert his royal authority? History, inasmuch as I can discover, offers nothing concrete, so I feel justified in making something up . . .
Even before I write down a single thing, I discover the end of our story in the writing of CV Wedgwood: the day after Concini’s assassination, as the Bishop crossed the Pont Neuf in his carriage, a mob had gotten a-hold of Concini’s corpse and were tearing it to pieces. His carriage stalled; should the crowd recognize him as one of Concini’s ministers, he would share his late mentor’s fate. Instead of cowering, Richelieu hung out his carriage and goaded the crowd on, encouraging them to chant “Viva la Roi!” as they went about their grisly business. Then, he sits and his carriage goes on its way unmolested. THAT, with a few flourishes, will make an excellent ending! We need only figure out how to get there . . .
Thus far, the cast of characters have suggested a few hard and fast bits of info to us: the story will take place around the 24th of April, 1617 — the date of Concini’s assassination (he was shot to death by the captain of the King’s Guard, Nicholas de l’Hospital, the future Baron de Vitry); it will be set in Paris. These facts, along with clues found in our ending, guide our research: via a perpetual calendar, we learn that in 1617, the 24th of April was on a Monday; Google gives us historical records, woodcarvings, and such to help build the Paris of our imagination.
And that is a valid point we need to discuss: historical fiction is fantasy with a sterling pedigree. What do I mean by that? The 17th century Paris we create — or the Rome created by Steven Saylor or Conn Iggulden, the Sparta envisioned by Steven Pressfield, or even the India we see in Cornwell’s Sharpe books — is a figment of our imagination; it is a fantasy world constructed from the work of archaeologists and historians. They give us the pieces of the puzzle, and we arrange them to meet the needs of story and the writer’s own sense of what seems right. Discussions you might see online regarding “historical accuracy” are masturbatory and largely useless: you can get every fact and nuance right in your mind, and in the minds of historians, but until a time machine is invented that can take you back on a fact-checking mission, it’s all just supposition. What matters is your ability to make it SEEM right in the hearts and minds of your readers.
Tomorrow, we’ll sketch out the basic plot and fill in some research details.