Historical fiction can inform us of a lot. However informative, its factual representation is a little iffy- hence the fictional part. Although partially accurate, there are additive embellishments to enhance the story and entertain us. Sometimes, it’s more fictional than historical. That’s because history itself is a little bland and dry sometimes. These dramatic details add spice and flavor and give us noteworthy works like Titanic, Outlander, Hidden Figures, Apollo 13, and The Crown, to name a few.
Similar to the creative license of this genre, we don’t always recall things exactly as they happened in our own lives. Sometimes we even take on other people’s memories as our own (you know, you hear a story enough times and then it feels like it’s yours). That being said, we tend to rely on our history to paint this picture of who we are today. Sometimes the emphasis on our history gives it enough power to shape the current stories we have about ourselves. However, if part of our story is shaped by our past and our recollection of that past is a little skewed, we might want to take it with a grain of salt…After all, there was a tragedy when a 1912 transcontinental ship sank, but there was no Jack Dawson.
How do we develop a more realistic understanding of our history? Follow these editorial tips:
Remove the rose-colored glasses. In truth, overall, our memories aren’t that great. The accuracy of what we remember is pretty far off sometimes. Often, especially if something was long enough ago, the light we shed on it now is very different from the one back then. Sometimes this can be helpful- with time and as we reflect we can gain insight and in turn, learn from our past. Other times, we have a warped view of the truth- “My ex wasn’t that bad,” “That was the best time of my life.” When this happens, we may repeat unwanted patterns. By removing these rose-colored glasses, we evaluate the situation based on a broader recollection rather than the positive spotlights that pepper our memory.
Write a section from another perspective. When authors write chapters from another character’s view, we get a glimpse into an entirely new story. We see that there’s not an absolute truth and we can begin to understand other characters and scenarios differently. In our own lives, we may not be able to jump inside other people’s minds, however, we can offer ourselves alternative perspectives. Think of how many times you’ve told a story and someone tells you they didn’t remember it the same way- we all have varying perceptions. Upon reflection and in challenging ourselves to seek other points of view, we open up the opportunity for another narrative altogether.
Delete the absolutes. We can take a red pen and scribble all over: “This is how I’ve ALWAYS been,” and “It’s too late, I’ll NEVER change.” When we make these claims we give up control to history. We let history speak for us instead of the other way around and when this happens, we lose out on what could be. When we speak in absolutes we put up a wall between us and all of the other options. In taking away these definitive terms we can pick from a new word bank, broaden the scope of our story, and give ourselves a wider range of possible plotlines and character arcs.
Rework the ending. Sometimes it’s confusing- we know our history so well that we think that history is being played out right in front of us. This can happen so fluidly that we may regress into former versions of ourselves. But, when we’re able to separate our past from our present we can put distance between the sepia filter on our memories and the three-dimensional high-definition of our present. When we pull away we can see that we are not our past and we are not who we were in our past.
Working these edits into our stories takes time and practice. In doing so, we can leave historical fiction to our nightly reading or weekend binge-watching, and reframe our past in ways that will serve us rather than hold us back in our present and our future.
Catherine at Revive