Monday, October 1, 2012

Historical Figures are More than Just Dead People

I decided to dedicate each of my books to the person the book is about. Without people like Tuccia, Marie Laveau, and Joan of Arc, I wouldn't have a career. (Or the potential for a career, anyway.)

Someone pointed out to me that it's odd to dedicate a book to a person who's dead. It's not like that person is ever going to read it.

I answered, "What are you talking about? Of course they're reading it." When I pass on,  I'll want to read everything people write about me. Goodness knows I'll have the time for it.

Having an eternal perspective makes me look at historical fiction differently. Because I believe all these people are still alive as spirits, I believe I'm going to meet them someday. 

My "characters" might approach me and say, "You know, I really don't appreciate what you wrote about me." Or, "You got it all wrong!" Or, hopefully, "I'm so glad you took the time to tell my story."

When I heard Margaret George speak at the Historical Novel Society Conference, she said she writes her books as if the main character were peering over her shoulder. I believe our characters really do peer over our shoulders. They're eager to see how they'll be remembered.

What if you don't believe in a hereafter? If people cease to exist after they die, your responsibility toward the dead is even greater. The stories we tell are then the only thing left of them. They will never have the chance to defend themselves or tell their side of the story. That's really sad to think about.

Having an eternal perspective also makes me feel pressured to be accurate. I don't know if this is a Mormon thing or a Christian thing, but I believe when I die I can see everything that's happened in the past. 

In fact, a friend of mine said whenever her dad doesn't know who to punish for a misdeed, he says, "I can't wait until I go to heaven and find out who did this!"

One day, I'm going to go over my characters' lives like watching video tapes and I'm going to see everything I got wrong. My guess is I'm going to feel like an idiot. Not only will I see all the inaccuracies, but I'll get all these ideas for things I could have added to the book if only I had done my research.

After all, I believe a person's real life is more interesting than we could ever make it seem in a book. Most writers don't seem to feel that way. Perhaps I'll write an article expanding on that idea some other time.


  1. I really like this post. I like what you wrote about Margaret George, when she said she writes as if her characters are peering over her shoulder. That's great, I imagine spirits of those you write about, reading as you write. Thanks for sharing. =D
    -Stuffed Shelves

  2. This is an interesting post. One of the reasons I write is because I think of my characters as real people, begging to have their story told. And now that you've articulated it so well, I realize that I could apply the same thing to real dead people, as well. :)

    I beg to differ on real people being more interesting than we can have them seem in a book. I cannot see into the mind of a real person, but with a book character I can. Just my opinion. :)

    Anyways, lovely post. Thanks for sharing with us!

  3. This is a great post. I love that you dedicate your books to the people they are about. I remember feeling such responsibility and worry as I wrote my debut historical novel, because it was inspired by actual events and the life of a real woman. She wasn't famous, and that seemed to put even more pressure on me to get it "right." Historians write about dead people. Historical novelists write to give them new life.


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