Since I started my experiment I’ve managed to get about 50 pages written (remember these are 50 hand-written pages), but I also ran into some trouble. One of my workshop leaders at Vermont College of Fine Arts, A. M. Jenkins, said that a novel is like a picture frame, but you as the author have to know everything that’s going on outside of the frame. Well, after 50 pages I discovered I have no idea what’s going on inside or outside of the frame.
One difficulty is that I have no idea what timeperiod I’m in. Parts of it seem to be in the 16th century, other parts are in the 18th century, and there may even be some earlier time periods stuck in there somewhere. I’m realizing I have a very tenuous grasp of history. I also decided to include some characters of various ethnicities around the Mediterranean, which just made me realize how little I know about the Mediterranean and its various cultures and history in general.
I’ve been reading an enormous tome of Mediterranean history, which is nothing if not daunting, and trying to decide how much research is necessary, whether I should start with research or start with writing and research later, etc. etc. Thankfully, I had a very helpful conversation with fellow Secret Gardener, L. Marie, in which she reminded me that I’m writing fantasy and can make things up.
So this brought about an interesting internal debate. Am I writing historical fantasy? Am I writing about an alternate universe Mediterranean? Or am I writing a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy? After some angsting, I’m leaning towards a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy. I think I will still have to read about the history and culture for inspiration, but I’m going to make things up because that’s what I’m best at.
I wonder if some of my fear and anxiety about this is an unconscious belief that making things up isn’t as legitimate. History seems so much more, well, serious and intellectual. Not like making things up for fun! Of course, I also don’t want to fall into the trap of perpetuating cultural stereotypes and hurting people. I still haven’t decided whether choosing the route of a Mediterranean-inspired fantasy isn’t at its heart an act of cowardice on my part. But it does feel safer.
What about you, readers? Do you write historical fantasy, alternate universes, or culturally-inspired fantasy? Do you do research and how much? And do you start with research or wait till after you’ve written the first draft or write and research in tandem?