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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Sunday, June 05, 2005

history and storytelling

Slept fairly well after collapsing very fatigued last night. Soon a heavy rain set in.

This morning, keyed notes from Rubicon and the other book I bought at the same time, From Eden to Exile by archaeologist David Rohl.

I'm delighted with Rubicon because it deals specifically with my period (the Roman civil war), and it's addressing many questions that I've had for a long time but have not been able to find answers to as yet. Tom Holland, the high-achieving author ("awarded the top degree at Cambridge University"), is presenting a fast-moving history of the period leading up to the civil war (I'm on page 59 of 378). He's identified certain turning-points in that buildup and connected them in a causal way that strikes me as insightful and persuasive.

Often history is presented in a this-happened-then-this-happened-then-this-happened way that does not give a feeling of force and dynamism to the events. But Holland's approach is more like: this-happened-causing-this-to-happen-causing-this-to-happen-causing-this-to-happen. This is storytelling. We are drawn into a story by a strong flow of causation, like a powerful river current. The writer forces us to accept the events because they are causally connected, and we all accept causality at a visceral level. He refers to it as "narrative history". He says in his preface, "Following a lengthy spell in the doghouse, narrative history is now squarely back in fashion". Good.

I myself have put a lot of effort--years' worth--into structuring the events of my story, which is also a (fictitious) history, that must take account of, and account for, actual historical events. Right from the beginning, in my opinion, a story should be a runaway train. The readers, finding themselves aboard, can't get off.

I checked some search engines for the visibility of my blog. Which engines will display this site when you key "Paul Vitols" in the search window? The results:

AltaVista: yes, position 4 in the list of hits
Answers.com: no
Excite: yes, 13
Google: no
HotBot: no
Lycos: no
MSN Search: no
Netscape: no
Overture: yes, 9
Use.com: no
Yahoo: yes, 5

The winner: AltaVista, who ranked my blog in position 4 of the list of hits for a search of my name. They're clearly making use of the metatags I put in, as are Yahoo, Overture, and Excite.

Now: a 2nd cup of tea, and more Rubicon.


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