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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

inside the character

Heavy, cold rain.

This morning I keyed notes only from Lesley and Roy Adkins's Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, chapter 4, "Towns and Countryside". This is an excellent resource for writing about this period. I hadn't yet read this chapter, so I would read a section under my little hot-pink desklamp in the cramped space to the left of my keyboard, highlighting the material I wanted, then type the highlighted text into my Word document for this book. After typing each section I would copy it and paste it in another Word document, set up by subject, such as "Rome - Towns" or "Rome - Countryside". Between episodes of highlighting and typing I would take gulps of fresh, sugared coffee.

I pushed myself further than usual because I wanted to complete the notes up through the section on villas. I started at about 6:15 and went till 7:45, when light was shining through the closed venetian blinds of my office.

The reason I wanted to finish through "villas" was that I wanted to feel a sense of Marcus's original home. What was his house like? How big was it? How old? How many people lived there? Hot on his backstory, I felt behind on researching his part of the world. I had deliberately put off my Roman research because I had more urgent things to research first while drafting Part 1. So I'm typing right from the book raw, instead of my usual two-part process of reading and highlighting during my afternoon tea, from about 4:30 to 6:30 each day, and then typing the highlights in the morning coffee-session in my office.

In the writing session this morning I made a few notes, but then copied another version of Chapter 12 and, like a dog to its own vomit, returned to rework the "first" draft again. Marcus is lacking inner life, and I must give him this, at least a beginning of it, before I move on. I started writing about his reaction to Pompey's death, and the beginning of his dark reflections on his own life.

Maybe because of my screenwriting experience, I feel a strong desire to let only the visible and audible actions of my characters tell the story. In a screenplay, you must write this way--only what is seen and heard. No thoughts. I find myself reluctant to narrate a character's thoughts, as though this were cheating. But it's part of the point of prose-writing to be able to do this--so I must find my own comfort level here. Generally, I enjoy narration that is cinematic: writing that puts you there. I strive for that, but the beauty of words is that they can be used for anything.

Wrote about a page and a half at the top of Chapter 12.


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