Creative License

Below is an excerpt from Katharine Taylor and the Magic Quilt that is the focus of this blog.

“Dr. Warren’s Speech.”

… Sara Revere touched the silver locket on her necklace and transmutated into a tiny black bird that stood on her bedroom floor. Katharine transmutated into what she hoped was a brown cardinal with red tipped wings and an orange beak.

“Come Katharine,” the blackbird said and flew out the window. Katharine was afraid to fly, but she closed her eyes and flapped her wings a couple of times. She landed on the bed, grasping the bedspread with her claws. Her heart pounding, she flew once more around the room.

Still a little nervous, she stood up straight on her bird feet, took a deep breath and flew out the window. Wind hit her, like when she rode her bike down hill.

A flock of blackbirds circled the house, which startled her until she heard one of them call her name in Sara’s voice. “Follow us,” the black bird said.

When Katharine looked down, the house was small. The privy a small box the size of a domino. A flutter of fear made her wings skip a beat and she fell a few feet, sure she would crash to her death. But the Cardinal’s instincts took over and her bird body pumped its wings faster and she caught the flock of blackbirds. She was actually enjoying the wind fluffing her feathers. When she looked down again, she and the flock were above the church.

Sara dove into a window. Katharine followed her and perched on a beam in the church ceiling next to bird that was Sara. “We have the best view in the church, I knew we would,” Sara’s voice said from the blackbird’s beak. “And we’ll be able to hear everything.”

“I don’t see Dr. Warren,” Katharine said. There were at least one hundred people crowded into the sanctuary.

“Since Dr. Warren’s not here yet, we didn’t miss anything.”

“But how will he get into the door, or up to the pulpit with all these people?” Katharine asked. “The door is blocked with men. He’ll have to elbow his way through the crowd.”

Suddenly, there was a disturbance at the front of the church. Dr. Warren’s white wig appeared in the window behind the pulpit. He put a black leather shoe through, gold buckle gleaming, and jumped to the ground. Whispering voices filled the church. Unobserved, Sara and Katharine flew above the pulpit where they could see a ladder leaning against the outside the wall below the window. Dr. Warren must have climbed the ladder to get into the window behind the pulpit.

The men in the room stopped talking as soon as Dr. Warren stood at the pulpit. It may have been hard for the men in the back of the room to hear him, but the brown and black birds sitting in the window behind the pulpit heard every word. He took note cards from his pocket and read, “Our men are thrown in prison without a jury trial. They are found guilty with no defense and hung. Their families must fend for themselves. It’s time to fight back! King George III has violated the rights of his people so he forfeits our allegiance. If General Gage or any other Tory tries to arrest anyone for political reasons, we will seize British officers as hostages. Consider this war! Our intelligence efforts have begun.”

When a man with a beet red face pushed his head into the window, a black and brown bird flew into the rafters with a noisy fluttering of wings . Dr. Warren went over to speak to the red-faced man and then came back to the pulpit, “It has come to my attention that an influenza epidemic is spreading quickly. I am needed to care for the sick.” …

Struggling with whether to include the above in the young adult novel I’m endlessly revising, I posted this question at the Writers Net Discussion Forum: http://www.writers.net/forum/read/12/70190/70190Vf. For those of you who don’t want to click the link, or aren’t a member, below is a summary.

I finished the first draft my historical fantasy novel for young adults two years ago. This was the first novel that I’ve ever written; in retrospect, a historical novel was not the easiest genre for a first novel. The novel takes place in the present and in 1775. I made the mistake of writing the first draft without doing enough research into Colonial Boston, or into Paul Revere’s life, who is a central character. (I am a science researcher who was a former science teacher, far removed from the history of the American Revolution).

Patrick Leehy of the Paul Revere house was kind enough to edit my text and, no surprise, he found some mistakes. For example Sara Revere, Paul’s first wife, was alive and well in my first draft. She was deceased in 1775 — oops. So I revised the entire novel, correcting such history mistakes.

In order to correct the history, I had to remove a chapter because it took place in March of 1775 and my novel is set in April. After meeting with my critique group, I want to put the chapter back in. but this will involve the central character taking a trip back in time to March, and then making another second trip in April, which will involve some rewriting work.

Meanwhile, my husband is asking me when I’ll ever finish the novel (I have, after all, been working on it for three years). I keep saying soon, but sometimes I feel like the answer is really — never. Since this is my first time around the block with a novel, I decided to post these two questions as a sanity check:

1 How important is it to have every fact correct in a historical fiction or fantasy novel? I have tried very hard to make the novel match real history as much as my humble science background allows.

2 When is enough enough? I do not feel that my novel is ready to query agents yet, but will it ever be perfect? I keep incorporating feedback from my writing group, but I wonder if I am rewriting too much.

Here are some of the responses that I received: You can read the responses in their entirety at the link above.

I write historical FICTION and fiction is the key word here. I presume (and I could be wrong) fantasy falls into the same category as fiction, since it’s not REAL. In order for some of my events to take place, I had to make a factual event happen earlier in the year than it did in reality, but, because the book is fiction I can do that. However….I clarified in an afterward that I was AWARE I had changed the time line so as not to be corrected by historians who KNOW when the event actually occurred. I believe Stephen King exercised his “poetic license” in Christine. He wanted to use a specific model for his car, but it wasn’t manufactured until a year AFTER the book took place. A short afterward stating he used that car because….even though he was AWARE it wasn’t manufactured until a year later took car of car enthusiasts who would have been breaking down his door to tell him that car didn’t even exist when his story is set. And I agree with Harper about the writer’s group. Unless you have experienced (i.e. published or very close to published) writers in the group, not all opinions may be correct. I’m in a group in which I’m the most experienced writer and I’m making corrections to assumptions all the time. Be careful.

It will never be perfect. And writing groups can be tricky because everyone’s got an opinion and they can’t all be right. Do they all say the same things, or do they each have a different slant on it? If they all agree on the problems, you should probably listen. Otherwise, you should follow your instincts. But it’s never going to be perfect. As close as you can get to perfect is to be really serious about revisions and take it as far as your skill allows. But don’t stop until you do that.

Anyone one who works for the customer directly knows taking a long time to produce a product can hurt your business. So What? Trying to flog a sub-standard product to a knowledgeable clientele will attach the odor of dead fish to everything you do for a lot longer than it takes to re-write a chapter or two..

I really appreciate the help from these experienced writers. The afterword is exactly the fix that I needed and I’ve just added it to the end of my novel. It corrects this issue and others that I have been struggling with in getting the history right. I never would have thought of it on my own.

I will keep revising the novel until I am happy with it. It is the right thing to do, even though it seems like an endless task. I do have confidence in my writing critique group. I think their suggestions have made the book stronger. So I’ll keep on keeping on and let you know what happens.

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