Writing the past

I’ve been having some plotting problems with the novel, from its inception really. At first it seemed far too long a time span to cover before I remembered Kurt Vonnegut’s advice about starting as close to the end as possible and cut out 20 years. That was the easy part.

But I’m still struggling with certain aspects and I wasn’t sure why I was uncomfortable with changing the characters or storyline as I wanted. Was I being too sentimental, too attached to my original ideas?

And then it occurred to me.

I am writing a story with characters loosely based on real people. I didn’t want to make changes to the plot because those things didn’t happen in real life. And yet, I’ve already changed a lot about them – but somewhere there was still a barrier in my mind saying, “You can’t change the past!” It’s fiction, I can do what I want.

This may all sound silly to you but to me the fact that these were real people was an enormous obstacle. Would I do them justice? Would I offend anyone? It wasn’t just a matter of changing their names in my mind, I’d done some research and brainstorming already to make sure these were distinct. The fact that I didn’t know them should have helped – I only had a few historical documents and family tales passed on to go on and could therefore make all kinds of stuff up. But it took a long time to realise that these were no longer the folks who walked this earth, they were new people and they should, in theory, let me do whatever I wanted with them. Including squeeze time, change the birthdates and order of their sons, and reasons behind their deaths.

Bearing all this in mind, I am now ploughing forward again. Mental block, be damned.

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