Writer, Trust Thyself

Here’s the other thing about doing this copy-edit:

I have to trust I got things right.

Where by “things,” I mean the historical details. At the time I wrote these scenes, I had my research fresh in my mind, with notes and books open on the desk in front of me. That? Was last year. Do I still remember everything? No. And it’s worse with this book than it was with Midnight Never Come, because in this one, the plot engages much more directly with historical events — giving me oodles of chances to screw up. I could try to look it up again, double-check everything, but the library books have been returned and that would make the copy-edit take two months anyway. I have to trust that I got the details right in the drafting and revision stages.

Having said that . . . I’ve caught a few errors. But only because something stood out: a lack of a preposition in a historical quote, which made me check to see if that was a transcription error on my part, or the actual phrasing of the original. (Answer? Both: I have two books that give the line, and they don’t match up. I chose the clearer of the two.) Or me calling a character “Lady Elizabeth,” and then wondering if that’s the proper address for someone of her rank, which made me double-check whether I was right about her not being a countess yet. (Answer? She was a countess, and I had the address wrong. Also, I erroneously referenced her father, who was dead by then. Apparently I was asleep at the research wheel when I wrote that scene.)

I can’t check everything, though. I’ll have errors that crept in during revision, during drafting, during research when I failed to look something up in the first place. And some reader, somewhere, will spot them.

But you know, I’m okay with that. (Mostly.) Because the only way to avoid it is to have my characters float through a non-specific world, where events don’t have dates and buildings don’t have floor plans and the only people with names are the ones important to the plot. But that isn’t how real people live: the world you inhabit is concrete, specific, full of detail. You know the names of the people you work with, and sometimes they have walk-on parts in the story of your life.

What will be interesting to see is what this does to my secondary-world novels, next time I try to write one. Historical fiction has forced me to pay attention to the specificity of real life; can I maintain that specificity when I’m making it all up? I hope so.

At least nobody will be able to tell me I’ve gotten it wrong. 🙂

0 Responses to “Writer, Trust Thyself”

  1. albionidaho

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ll remember this for the future =).

  2. c0untmystars

    I love books with that sort of specificity, that make me want to know more about the world the characters live in because there’s such a strong sense of place. In the project I’m currently working on, Los Angeles is supposed to be such a strong presence that it’s almost a secondary character, and I’m finding that difficult even though it’s set in the present day… I realized only halfway through one chapter that what was happening required knowledge of a certain movie studio’s layout, which isn’t the easiest information to obtain. (Google satellite maps and street view were lifesavers.)

    I suspect that despite the amount of necessary research, historical settings might have an advantage over contemporary ones because a) it’s probably less likely that readers will catch errors and b) the historical settings don’t change unless there’s some earth-shaking new scholarly discovery. Whereas it’s entirely possible that in two years half the places I’m writing about will have been razed for condos or parking lots. 🙂

    • Marie Brennan

      <lol> Yes, that’s true. (Though history does change, in the sense that our understanding of it shifts over time. That’s not quite the same thing, though.)

      “City as character” is one of the things I’m trying very hard to achieve with these books. It’s why I stick by calling them historical urban fantasy; you could not transplant them to Paris or Rome and have them be anything like the same books. I’m embedding the stories in London as firmly as I possibly can. I adore books that make me feel like I know the place they’re set in, that evoke the specificity of that place and no other.

  3. desperance

    At least nobody will be able to tell me I’ve gotten it wrong.

    Hah! They’ll tell you anyway.

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