As we pause for the weekend (we’ll pick back up with the writing of the Story on Monday), I wanted to offer a chance for a little Q&A. Email me your questions — my addy is in the sidebar — or just post them in comments and I’ll edit the post throughout the day to answer any I receive. I’ll start us off:
Q: What is the purpose behind your alterations to accepted history in the Story?
A: Any alterations to what is accepted as historical fact are meant to enhance the story — either through character actions and deeds or through changes in the structural timeline. Richelieu is our protagonist, but through much of the recorded history of the Concini affair, Richelieu remains a passive observer. Things happen to him, rather than him effecting the changes around him. And, for a protagonist, passivity is the kiss of death. Protagonists must be proactive, not reactive. True, I could have left it alone and chosen a different protagonist, but I am fascinated with Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu; I wanted to explore something of his sinister mystique — albeit, that mystique is largely the work of Dumas. But, to do that, he needed a more active role in the Concini affair. If the tale pans out along the lines of the synopsis, he will come across as something of a puppet master . . . the spider at the center of the web. And yes, strict historical accuracy will have to suffer for my art . . .
Anyone have any questions? Don’t be shy . . .
Keith West has provided our first reader question:
Q: How do you know when the research you’ve done is enough, both in terms of time spent researching and amount of information collected? Or to put the time component of that question in other terms, how do you decide to stop looking for a piece of information, that to continue to research that data point will not be a good use of time?
A: Let me answer the time component first. For me, when the search for a nugget of info begins to impact the amount of time I spend actively writing, then it’s time to make something up and beg forgiveness in the author’s note. As for how much is enough, I use a peculiar feature of my brain as a yardstick: until I flesh something out to my satisfaction, through research or creation, I can only see it in black-and-white; once it reaches the stage when I can see it in color, I know I’ve done enough. Some ideas come to me in startling technicolor (Memnon was that way), others seem like a washed out old photo, which was how the Story looked until I came across the scene I described from Wedgwood’s Richelieu and the French Monarchy. And it’s usually like that for me — some touchstone event is described in such a way as to get my imagination started, and it’s either colorful or bland. If the idea sticks, then I’ll start to flesh it out, give it color, and develop the vocabulary to be able to write coherently about it. That’s probably not a terribly helpful answer, but that’s how my particular process works.
It is entirely possible to take research too far, to use it as a crutch for procrastination rather than a tool to add verisimilitude. Generally speaking, a good encyclopedia on a particular time, coupled with a book on daily life and another two or three on historical events is enough to get me going on an idea. But, I also compulsively buy history books, so I always have a few sitting around on my favorite times periods. For granular research, like the layout of the Louvre for the Story, the internet is perfect.