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What Is There To Learn From Writing?

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Today, I'll finish the third edit of a historical novel I've written set in the Middle Ages, and this has me looking back. I started research on this rather obscure subject and personality some 20 years ago, and then came compiling and synthesizing the data. The story involves a man who rose from the French peasantry to the Catholic Church's papacy in a time of great social upheaval - not unlike the world-wide era we now live in. 

But to begin answering my question...

This quest began, rather obviously, with an adult dose of curiosity about this man, and the era he helped shape. This was a time in which singular personalities - rather than the masses - affected an era's progress - or its missteps. Fascinating to consider that from the viewpoint of life in the 21st century, isn't it?

Compiling data in such a quest - even ragarding an era in which few records were kept, and much of what is there holds conflicting perspectives, dates, accounts, etc. - is an exercise in organization, and this skill is planted firmly in my wheelhouse. 

But how to tell the story?

I'm discovering, especially with historical fiction, that this is a separate talent, and it concerns many challenges. First, the temptation is to make a historical treatise of it, but this isn't what fiction is all about. And for such a story to be readable and relevant, the characters must be there, must bring the history, which can seem overarching and distant, down to the personal level.

So I've taken a page from Scott Fitzgerald and created a second character to complement the historical one. Still there was a problem. Even these two characters couldn't make the story come full circle. The limitations of these two characters' experience was unable to close the deal, since both had to die, and so my structure required yet a third character. This one, of course, couldn't be simply a "throw-in;" he had to be an integral part of the story.

This called for much finagling and restructuring even before I began to write. I ended up then with a chancy structure,the story being told in the form of a book. A book within a book. Shades of J.M Coetzee!

I think I've done a decent job of telling this story, but is it too odd structurally? Will the casual reader be confused? Will readers of any stripe be informed and entertained by it? 

It absolutely begs for another set of eyes, and so a writing colleague will see it next. Then, depending on her reaction, I may submit it to an indie editor for opinion and advice.

So what's to learn in telling such a story? You'll learn that creativity goes far beyond wordsmithing. It involves proper use of history. Characterization that does justice to the history. An underlying structure to support all of that. And perhaps most importantly: the reader - have you made your story accessible? Story is the thing, as always, but there must be readers for the story to complete itself.


Visit Bob's Web Site here, and his FB Fan Page here.

7 Comment count
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Good post, Bob ~

Thanks for sharing the insights into your process as you're working on your novel. I love reading about other writers and how their books come to be.

Best of luck with your newest book.  Is there something that writers say to one another to wish them luck, along the 'Break a leg' line? Perhaps we should say, 'Spill your ink,' or, 'Hope you have writer's block!'


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Thanks Michael...

...I hope to see something more of your process in the future, too. And, hey, we're writers - we can make stuff up..."blunt you nib?" No, that's too old fashioned. "Lose your file?" No, I wouldn't wish that on anyone. Maybe "keep a pencil handy" would be a good compromise.

Okay, your turn.

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She who does not like to write ~

aka my wife ~ suggested "Split some infinitives." She said that splitting infinitives is bad writing so you're wishing someone bad writing. But see, that's about writing and control, and less about fate and publishing. I dismissed her idea. She wasn't pleased. We all love our ideas, don't we?

"Hope you're remaindered?" Too brutal? "Hope you're rejected!" Say it with bubbling joy. "Hope you're rejected." But that's not really bad luck, is it? Those are more about editors' preferences, market forces, other peoples' poor taste in their book selections, or bad marketing and advertising. 

"Lose the manuscript?" 

Back to you. Cheers

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Very interesting!

Thank you so much for your post!  I also love to learn about the process other writers experience, as well as enjoying all types of fiction.   I admire the beautiful way you crafted your blog post and am excited to read this new project.  I find historical fiction fascinating, especially the weaving of a story so intimately with actual facts.  I can imagine this is extremely complicated, but also rewarding for writer and reader alike!  Thank you for creating a new adventure for your readers and for allowing us to share in the process!

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Thanks again, A.J.

Hmm...I may post an excerpt from it soon. Stay tuned, and thanks.

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Back to Mike

My wife is of the same ilk - a grammar prescriptivist, I think she describes herself. Me? I split 'em when it sounds less awkward, so that's no go on your wife's try.

Let's see...

"Crash your computer!" 

"Get carpal tunnel!"

"Stare blankly at that screen!"



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A.J. Again

A.J., I will post the first chapter in my blog soon. I'm going over it one mo' time before letting my writing pard have it.