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Viewpoints in Historical Fiction
By Bruce L. Cook
Have you considered multiple viewpoints for historical fiction?
The main consideration in these novels is the need for careful research. And it’s not always easy, as anyone can testify when has tried to find out controversial historical tidbits like – “Who invented the wristwatch?” or “When invented the telephone?”
In my own writing, I needed to discover accurate historical facts regarding a little known German attack on the Port of Brindisi in Italy. While this sounds like an easy assignment, I was amazed to make two discoveries. First, that main facts, like the date and time of the attack, were the hardest to pin down. And second, that history was resplendent with the least significant facts.
In the novel, once the story’s conflict is set and facts about setting and events development are solid, the author needs to create and accurately describe the characters. This can be a tall order, especially if the characters have to be revealed through omniscient glimpses the author inserts along the way.
An alternative is to describe characters, settings, and events through the eyes of several main characters. Here we need to suspend any traditional requirement for the author to comment directly or through the eyes of a character. Instead, the author makes the action and setting vivid by showing the actions of characters and their reactions to other characters. It’s effective, but it’s also a challenge.
I was made aware of the possibility by the recent release of His Kingdom Come: A Novel by Margaret Montreuil. Here the author created a startlingly accurate story of the events surrounding and following the crucifixion of Christ. (Her former historical novel, In His Sandals, focused on the Life of Christ.) Most importantly, the reader sees events through the eyes of those closest to him.
The story gains its power through the variety of viewpoints used in telling the story. We see events, in separate chapters, through the eyes of James, Joses, and Jude (brothers of Christ), Miriam (sister of Lazarus), Daniel (Jesus’ boyhood friend), the Apostles Simon Peter and Paul, and a newly introduced scribe of Caiaphas court – Judah. In my view, the introduction of this somewhat fictional character makes it possible for the reader to understand what is happening in the context of the scriptures of the day – necessarily best known by a scribe in the Temple’s court.
This novel is most significant in helping readers learn the chronology of these events, considering that historical accounts are usually studied in isolation from each other. Secondly, for writers, it’s a useful study of writing technique because the author took the time to address events through many characters’ eyes, thus helping readers achieve a vivid impression.
His Kingdom Come: A Novel, by Margaret Montreuil (Bloomington: Westbow Press, 2011)
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