World-Building in Historical Fiction

I’m up against a very tight deadline to get A Storm Hits Valparaíso off to the editor so posting will be minimal over the next week or so – apologies.

By way of introduction to the last excerpt I posted, I spoke a little about the challenges facing historical fiction authors in terms of authenticity and how demanding its readers are in that regard. That point was illustrated perfectly in a comment by Hannah Renier, who pointed out that my character would not have traveled in a stage-coach, but more likely in a post-chaise (thank you, Hannah).

Today, I want to talk briefly about world-building and PoV. I’ve chosen to write A Storm Hits Valparaíso in third-person omniscient, essentially meaning that I (or rather the narrator) can share information that the viewpoint characters may not be strictly aware of.

It’s a relatively common choice for historical fiction, especially one with multiple narrative strands, and it makes world-building a lot easier as you can stray outside the limited information your characters may hold and give a little background and historical context to the scenes you are presenting.

However, this choice is not without its downsides and writers can often lapse into “history teacher” mode, subjecting readers to long info-dumps which the author thinks are crucial, but do nothing to advance the story (only serving to bore the reader and create emotional distance).

On each successive draft (of which there have been many), I identified huge tracts where I was doing exactly this, and either turned them into “action” scenes or dialogue (which must be handled carefully so that you don’t have a character artificially spouting history lessons), or, what was more common, simply cut them altogether.

Most historical fiction writers find the research so inherently exciting that we are at pains to include as much of it as possible. It’s a temptation we must avoid: the research must serve the story, not the other way around.

Science fiction and fantasy authors face similar challenges – the only difference being that the “world” they are building is one they have constructed themselves, rather than reconstructed from the historical record.

I try and force myself to start each chapter in media res – that usually cuts out most of my research-driven historical waffling. It’s harder to lapse back into that once you begin with action.

In the excerpt below, I broke this rule after advice from a beta reader. The first couple of paragraphs were originally further along in the chapter, but he advised bringing them up top, and I think it works better.

There is a lot of historical background (i.e. world-building) in this chapter – a lot more than usual – but I’ve tried to weave it into the narrative as much as possible. I think the transition between the second and third paragraphs still jars a little, and needs some work.

Aside from that, as always, none of the below has been edited or proofed. This chapter changed more in the last draft than others I have posted, and is probably riddled with all sorts of errors that will be caught before publication. But it’s exciting to share. I’m really looking forward to getting this book out there.

This chapter introduces (yet) another main character. If you would like to read the other excerpts I’ve posted, they are listed here (along with some general background on the book).

Chapter Six—The Mountain That Eats Men

Once, Potosí was the centre of the world—the merchant capital of América. The wealth generated by its silver mine was so vast that the rich had trouble spending it. The wealthy competed by dressing their slaves in Florentine satin. Bodyguards sported swords from Spain and daggers from Turkey. Scriveners scribbled on parchment from Genoa. Markets filled with the competing scents of spices from the Malay Peninsula as jewelers, masons, and weavers tempted the newly-minted nobles with storied wares from faraway lands.

But by August 1811, Potosí was cowering in the shadow of its past. No longer was it the richest and largest city in América. The city’s fortunes, like those of the miners, were tied to the dwindling mine. The Cerro Rico still yielded its precious metals, but grudgingly. More enterprising merchants had long left for Rio or Panama and more ambitious nobles had departed to Lima or Santiago. Potosí no longer provided a quarter of the Crown’s revenue, but it provided enough, and the Spanish guarded it jealously. The Indians hadn’t left; they couldn’t. They were the fuel that powered the mine. Plucked from their villages to work as slaves, their families followed, and waited and hoped, encamped on the southern base of the mountain in a series of ramshackle huts that had sprung up to supply the mine.

Deep in the bowels of the Cerro Rico, there was a loud bang, then a deep rolling rumble. For the miners of Potosí, that meant only one thing. Pacha dropped his hammer and looked up. The low ceiling seemed to be shaking free from the gnarled wooden struts. Dust streamed into his eyes and choked the already-thin air, but the roof was holding, for now. Chikan was on all fours spitting incantations and blessings. Pacha grabbed him by the neck. “We have to get out of here. Pachamama is awakening.”

Moving as quickly as they could, they tried to keep to the rotted wooden slats of the track, all the while listening for the distant thunder of the ore-cart that could crush them without losing momentum. They scrambled up the first ladder, knowing that their only chance of surviving a roof collapse was to get as high as possible.

Pacha had been working in one of the most dangerous parts of the mine, the deepest tunnels. Three hundred years of intensive mining had bled most of the silver from Upper Perú, thousands dying each year to feed the rapacious Spanish throne. Slaves imported from Africa couldn’t cope with the extreme altitude; they died in huge numbers before Spain turned to the natives. Pacha, like most Indians of his age, was taken from his village and forced to work in this pit of tears for six straight months. Six months without seeing his family, without breathing clean air. Six months without seeing the sun. The Spaniards’ relentless thirst for precious metals pushed the Indian slaves deeper and deeper into the mine. Those who survived the meager diet, the grim conditions, and the sadistic guards, were plagued with the fear that keeps all miners awake at night: a cave-in.

The few lucky enough to survive these six months were haunted for the rest of their lives, knowing it wasn’t skill or perseverance or faith which spared them, but the whims of fortune. However, these men suffered the cruelest fate of all: the slow, coughing death that claimed all the miners of Potosí. Before the silver ran out altogether, Potosí, along with the rest of América’s mines, would claim eight million lives.

As he made his way upwards, Pacha knew something was afoot. The guards had disappeared; miners were streaming from adjacent tunnels. They had all heard the noise, but there were was no word of a cave-in. As they approached the mouth of the mine, the group slowed, making the painful transition to the light they hadn’t seen for many months.

Pacha shielded his eyes, waiting for them to adjust, kneeling down to pat the earth. The city of Potosí spread out beneath him, in the shadow of the Cerro Rico, into which the mines had burrowed deep.

“Look!” Chikan grabbed his elbow and pointed southwest. A large army was camped on the outskirts of the city.

Just below him, creeping up one side of the mountain, Pacha could make out the edges of the maze-like town that was home to the families of the miners. His wife and only son were there. Pacha made his way down towards them, along with the other miners. As they approached, an anxious crowd intercepted them.

Pacha saw the bright faces of the children playing in street, happy at all the commotion. They ran towards the miners, tugging at their tattered clothing. Behind them were the hardened faces of the women: mothers calling the names of dead sons and wives searching the crowd for dead husbands. And the old men sat in their doorways, nodding greetings as he passed, adding Pacha to their short list of survivors. As he fought his way through the crowd, he saw his wife. Alone. No child at her hand. His chest tightened. He called her name and she turned. “Pacha! You are alive!” She pressed her face against his, blackening herself with soot from the mountain that eats men. He kissed her and held her tighter. He felt his worry drain away, only to rise again.

“Where is my son?”

“He’s with my mother. He’s safe. And he has gotten big. Big like his father.”

***

The party that night was more like a wake. Each embrace was followed with furtive glances towards the widowed, the bereaved, and the orphaned. Pacha’s head was spinning, and not just from the amount of aguardiente in his stomach. Yesterday he was a prisoner of the mine and today he had his wife on his knee and his son at his feet. The bottle reached him again; he took another swig and passed it to his right. Everyone was talking about the army from the south that had run the Spanish from Potosí. Pacha went looking for Chikan, finding him in the middle of an argument with two of the older villagers.

“You want to turn your back on your people and go and fight for the Kastillas?”

“We should go and hear what they have to say. After all, we wouldn’t have escaped the mine if it wasn’t for them.”

“We wouldn’t be in the mine if it wasn’t for them.”

“Let’s see what they have to say. It can’t do any harm.”

The argument continued in circles for most of the night.

The following day, Pacha stood with the others in the Plaza Antigua. They were all feeling the effects from the night before, all except for Chikan who was snoring in the shadow of the fountain. Many had come out of curiosity. Everyone wanted to see the Indian who was fighting the Kastillas’ war. Stories of the short-haired Quechua man in a strange uniform had brought a large, if somewhat bawdy crowd.

There was a gasp as he entered the square on a large black stallion with a misshapen saddle, and stirrups polished brighter than any Potosí silver. The man leapt from his horse and gave the reins to a young boy, pressing a coin into his hand. A table was brought out from an adjoining building and the man climbed up, held both his hands aloft, and waited for the crowd to settle. Chikan woke with a start when the horse leaned over him to drink from the fountain.

The man spoke with a strange accent. At first, most of those gathered weren’t paying much attention to what he was saying. Instead, debate raged about how he might have received the long curved scar which started under his right eye and stopped just short of the edge of his mouth. Then he smiled and the scar and his mouth became one, giving him the lop-sided grin of a lunatic. Everyone stopped talking amongst themselves.

He was from the mountains far to the south—past the Salt Plains—and he told them that his army had come to fight the Kastillas. He told them of the battles they had already fought and of the many more they were yet to win. And he warned them that the Spanish would be back, with more men and more guns. He pointed at the Cerro Rico and asked the crowd if they wanted to die in there. Then he asked them if they wanted to kill the men that put them there. “Are you willing to fight? Are you willing to stop the Spanish dragging us into the mines while they rape our wives and daughters? Will you join me and fight for our freedom?”

The crowd roared its assent.

***

Pacha and Chikan were given three days to say goodbye to the families and friends they had just been reunited with. It was a difficult time. Some understood their decision, many more did not, but Pacha knew that the only way he could stop his son from going down that mine was to free him from the slavery which had destroyed his people.

EDIT: Read more about the history of Potosí and the Indian miners in this companion piece on my other blog SouthAmericana.com: Potosí: The Lost City of Silver

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in London, the author of "Mercenary" and "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" as well as "Let's Get Digital" and "Let's Get Visible."
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34 Responses to World-Building in Historical Fiction

  1. I’m afraid I would disagree with your beta reader on starting with an omniscient info-dump. But that’s me. :-)

    It would jerk me right out of the story.

    • My editor will get the last word on this, and I suspect she may agree with you. It’s easily fixed in any event – I would simply start with the third para, and slot the opening two back where they were in the middle somewhere.

    • I think it can be done – Louis de Bernieres often does it quite expertly – whether I have done it correctly or not is another matter.

    • prue batten says:

      I agree with J.R.Tomlin (whose insight to sword-fighting is terrific!). I think an info-dump, even the smallest, can be alienating to the reader. If it were me, David, I’d be starting at the third para and selectively feeding your info in some way through dialogue or action.

  2. Well done! Fast-paced and free of any info-dump paras.

    I was intrigued right away. I hadn’t realized that in Potosì they kept the miners in the mines for six months straight without seeing the light! How odd and unusual. How could the miners live in such an environment? What did they eat? Nothing cooked I suppose (could they light a fire in the tunnels?). And what about toilets (where would they defecate?) Sorry to ask these questions, but they inevitably come to the mind of a reader like myself who’s lived in Belgium where miners (coming from Italy, most of them) were not slaves of course, but hardly lived a better life…But they did come up everyday to spend the night with their families…

    If these guys really never did (I mean come out of the mine), it would be fascinating to be given a glimpse of what their everyday life might have been like. With perhaps tremors and sounds that they pooh poohed because they had learned with experience to distinguish the “Big One” from normal tremors. So what brings Pacha out of the mine exactly? The sound of a “Big One” or a completely unaccustomed sound from the outside? I suspect the latter. But you might want to make that clear…Just a suggestion of course. Other readers might feel differently and bottom line, you decide, you’re the writer!

    Thanks for sharing your chapter, I always enjoy your blog and learn a lot from you!

  3. Jamie says:

    Having spent some of my teenage years living in Vina del Mar (my father worked in Valparaiso), Chile still holds a spot in my heart. I can’t wait to read this book!

  4. W. H. Dean says:

    Hi David,

    Let me say first that you have a very nice prose style. It’s balanced and melodious, which is something too few writers pay attention to. If you’ve never consciously tried, you should probably thank your Irish heritage and carry on as before.

    Anyway, I had one general issue. As I was reading, it became obvious that you (as opposed to the narrator) have considerable sympathy for the Indians. That means you’re telling too much and showing too little in some places.

    But there’s also a bigger problem associated with telling in this case. When you show us their suffering and fears, we feel sympathy for the characters; when you tell us about how they suffered at the hands of others, we feel outrage toward the historical perpetrators. In other words, our emotional focus shifts from the characters (and thus the story) to the historical evils. That’s not good, especially if you’re telling a long story.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s really only a spotty problem and it may come out in the editorial wash. But I think it’s important to be cautious when it comes to this particular line in this particular genre.

    By the way, all the talk of silver and South America has me thinking Nostromo, and you can’t go wrong there.

    • Hey,

      Thank you very much.

      Show/tell is a recurring issue for me in my writing. Each read spots more, and each draft removes more, but I seem to lapse into it quite often if I am not careful. It’s a constant bugbear. My editor is pretty good at hauling me over the coals on that front, and she will probably have her work cut out in certain places. I think it’s okay in a third-person omni historical to have some telling, as long as it’s artfully done and is kept to a minimum – with a story on an epic scale, it can be necessary at times, but your point is well-made.

      Dave

      • P.S. Must get my hands on a copy of Nostromo – I’ve never read it.

      • W. H. Dean says:

        Oh David! You must read Nostromo. It’s a fantastic book. But one word of caution. If you read anything about it, don’t be put off by the Marxist reading, which reduces the story to a predictable exposition of the evils of capitalism. It’s really about the tension between virtue, wealth and happiness, and it’s very moving tragedy.

        Now I’m not saying I cried when I read it, but if I had shed a few manly tears (and I’m not saying I did), I would have been perfectly justified in doing so.

  5. philipparees says:

    Thought the general post made excellent points. With reference to the info-dump issue in the first two paragraphs I did not notice it until I went back to re-read ( after the comments) and then wondered whether you, anxious to avoid any appearance of it but needing to scene set, over condense, over abbreviate, instead of allowing yourself to enjoy it. Its a fault I share as a writer, being terrified of boring people, and thereby doing what will seem apologetic. I couldn’t help wanting those paragraphs expanded, more smells, more sounds, less historical, more immediate, possibly introducing the sense of threat and danger like smoke wafting through Potosi before it becomes focussed. Just a thought. Philippa

    • I think this might be a matter of taste (although some may disagree). I don’t enjoy reading work that is over-laden with descriptions and my writing naturally reflects that. In my earlier drafts, a lot of the feedback was that I had gone too far with this, and wasn’t setting the scene sufficiently and allowing the reader to make a connection. I’ve tried to address that, but I’m never going to be the kind of writer who will spend a paragraph describing a dress or a bell-tower. Instead, I like to keep things moving plot-wise.

  6. It’s easy as a historical novelist to drown yourself in research. How much detailed information a reader requires or desires is a very individual matter. Some readers find the scene-setting and intricate detail helps immerse them in the period; others find it bogs down the flow. Unfortunately, the writer can only write the story one way and they have to do it in a manner that satisfies their own style of story-telling. If you’re taking the omniscient approach, I’d say ask yourself what the minimum amount of information is that the reader needs to know. Personally, I always grieve a little when I do a hatchet job on large paragraphs – all that work, plus I’m never quite sure it’s the right thing to do. Too much detail, or too little? Only the reader can decide. Good luck with your edits, David! Almost there.

    • It’s something I’m always weighing up: does the reader want to know more about this, or less. Does it move the story forward? Does it add to the story? Or does it weigh it down, confuse the reader, or create an emotional wall? It’s something at the forefront of my mind with each draft, but the usual answer is: cut it out. I do a lot more cutting than fleshing out with each draft, although there are always areas too where I have skimmed over and I realize that the reader needs a little more. I can only spot those areas after letting it stew for a while. I have the whole story in my head, and that doesn’t always make it to the page – my mind can fill in the blanks, but the reader can’t. Only when I “forget” the story, can I return to it and see what is missing, and what is overdone.

  7. josephine wade says:

    Hey Dave,

    Great chapter — I can’t wait for more. I was thinking you are definitely writing in the perfect generation if you want to avoid long paragraphs of description. With google and all the ‘-pedias’ out there it is easy to look up terms like aguardiente or the types of costume worn. My feeling is unless you need to slow down the pace or there is some larger meaning you are trying to point out the long descriptive paragraphs are not needed. Now some historical fiction is heavier on the historical details, but I don’t usually read those and I’ve very much enjoyed your chapters posted here.

    Great job!

    P.S. I know you are working hard getting you revisions done, if there is anything I can do to help be sure to pipe up. I know you want as early a release as you can get. Good luck, keep writing — you’re almost there!

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  9. John Barlow says:

    “…our emotional focus shifts from the characters (and thus the story) to the historical evils. That’s not good, especially if you’re telling a long story.”
    Who the fuck says?
    A guy called Dean.
    And just who is he to critique writing with such professorial assuredness?
    You ever heard of hedging your comments, Mr Dean?

    • W. H. Dean says:

      I always find it humorous when the Moral Police show up. I guess I have a weakness for comic irony: you question my authority to criticize David’s phrasing (despite the fact that I claimed none) then presume to lecture me about mine—as if, in addition to being an expert in how one should phrase comments on blogs, you were in charge of enforcing the International Law Governing the Phrasing of Comments on Blogs.

      But hey, maybe you do have a UN mandate. For all I know, you’re Moral Police Chief Barlow, in charge of enforcing the International Law Governing the Phrasing of Comments on Blogs through moral indignation. And maybe I should know who the fuck you are. If that’s the case, I have a question. It seems to me that if my criticism has no authority, then my praise for his prose style has no authority either. So why didn’t you call me on that too?

      Seriously, why not be honest and tell the good folks here what really pissed you off. I highly doubt it has anything to do with the way I hedge my comments. I’m betting it’s actually what I said about the Great Seer of Trier. His epigones are more predictable than dogs around cats.

  10. I just wrote a new post for my other blog SouthAmericana.com which goes nicely with this one. It’s about the history of Potosí, the prodigious mine which produced all that silver, and the Indians who worked and died inside it, as well as my reflections on visiting the mine in 2005.

    Potosí: The Lost City of Silver: http://southamericana.com/2011/11/26/potosi-the-lost-city-of-silver/

  11. W. H. Dean says:

    The info-dump criticism has been bugging me, so I had to come back object to it. (Do keep in mind that I draw upon my vast authoritative knowledge of everything that I suckled directly from the Pierian Spring).

    1. I acknowledge the virtues of starting with action. But this is Chapter 6, not Chapter 1, so the reader is already hooked.

    2. It’s historical fiction, yes, but the first two paragraphs also funnel smoothly and logically into the situation of the characters. The downward feeling conveyed by the historical decline of the city mirrors and leads into the characters’ own situation at the bottom of a crumbling mine. In a sense, the narrative works its way down into the mine—that’s good craftsmanship on David’s part.

    3. The first two paragraphs should stay. We only understand half of the characters’ situation if we don’t see how they fit into downward historical spiral of the city. Without the “info-dump” we know they’re in a collapsing mine; but we don’t appreciate that they’re peons left behind to scratch out a miserable living for others’ benefit. That’s also important for understanding them within their historical context—not to mention for building sympathy for them. Getting rid of these two paragraphs would probably be wrongheaded.

    4. Paragraphs one and two are also essential to one another. The first depicts a scene of how the city was in its salad days. (The only useful addition might be a sensory cue, something about how you could see and smell the wealth, placed just before the description with all the sights and smells. That would directly cue us to visualize the scene.) Thus it drives home the image painted in the second paragraph: the shadow image, the dilapidated, dissipated remnant, which we can feel in virtue of having seen the city at its best. The ostentation is gone, the best of the mine is gone, the prosperity is gone. (Maybe a corresponding sensory cue would work here too.)

    In other words, the first paragraph is an excellent device for efficiently and effectively conveying the decline in the second, which is essential to fully understanding the situation of the miners in the third paragraph. Again, I think it’s good craftsmanship.

  12. John Barlow says:

    What pisses me off, Mr Dean, is that you are using people’s websites to set your stall out as an editor for hire. So, let’s see your credentials (your own website provides none).

    1. Academic affiliations, degrees.
    2. Books written/published.
    3. Articles, monographs on literary criticism.
    4. Works that you have edited, or clients you have worked for.
    5. Anything else (I mean, really, anything!).

    • John,

      I don’t see his comments as setting his stall out as an editor for hire. I’ve seen WH Dean comment on several different blogs before, and I’ve never seen him once shilling for business either here or elsewhere.

      I try and maintain a respectful tone here – you two seem to have rubbed each other up the wrong way. Instead of bickering, how about ignoring each other?

      Dave

    • W. H. Dean says:

      I didn’t know I needed credentials to comment on a blog. If so, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Besides, I never rely on credentials because I never appeal to my own authority. My arguments and impressions stand or fall on their own. So why not challenge them instead of questioning me personally?

      As for self-promotion, anyone can see that my name links to my personal blog, not my website. But thanks for the free advertising.

      To everyone else, I have no idea who this poster is. I was relying on past experience when I suggested that the Marxist comment set him off. Sorry that I cranked him up even more; that was childish on my part.

  13. Kim Early says:

    Hi Dave.
    Just found your blog when I searched for ‘building context in fiction’. I’m currently working on short stories myself but have struggled with this issue of the ‘rate of revelation’ that creates enough tension and information to interest the reader without leaving out important context that builds complexity.
    If this is a novel and the title includes the city it seems to me that the setting is as much a character as, or at least as important as, the people. If this is a more literary novel, your audience may not need to begin ‘in media res’ like so many plot driven movies or stories. Take a look at the wonderful novel “The Bridge on the Drina”. It begins with a long lyrical description of the river that puts the whole story into a frame that the reader needs in order to deeply understand the conflict of the story. You may even be able to read the first few pages on Amazon…Let me know what you think…Not all of us need the Hollywood effect of conflict in the first paragraph : )
    Kim

  14. Kim Early says:

    Ok just realized that this is the beginning of chapter six, not chapter one, but the advice about context still works. The background about the city is needed somewhere, perhaps in juxtaposition to what exists now.

  15. Hunter Goss says:

    David, love your comments about show/tell and the struggle to avoid a massive info dump in a story.

    I’ve found two ways to parse out information. First, I’m not writing in 3rd omniscient, but a kind of serial first person where POV rotates among the characters. So in that regard characters’ thoughts and reactions can carry bits of the information to the reader. Second, I dole out information through dialogue in situations where one character has to bring another ‘up to speed’ or otherwise inform them about a situation.

    To avoid giving a history lesson, I start each writing session by re-reading what I wrote the day before ( I think I got that from Dean Wesley Smith if I remember correctly), smoothing it out and whittling historic fact down to only the essentials needed for a particular scene or plot thread.

    By the way, very instructive excerpt you posted.

  16. Mark & Mark says:

    I found the world-building in this chapter adequate and not burdensome. The quick move to an action scene is great. Perhaps the visit by the “short-haired Quechua man” offers opportunity for more world-building through his story telling, if you find that necessary.

  17. Aron White says:

    David,
    I like the chapter :) as well as the info in the first 2 paragraphs. I will confess though that it does feel a bit heavy with history and suggest taking a few relevant bits and pieces from the first two and weave them into the third by starting with Pacha in the mine and as he’s working, give a few quick blurbs about what he’s doing and how it ties into the history of those people and events that led up that exact moment. Just my two cents! Keep up the good work.

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  19. Ibrahim Abdul-Rahman says:

    That was a rather short chapter, or pehaps it was an extract of one. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter all that much to me whether the first two chapters are placed at the beginning of the story or somewhere later. That’s how my mind works, I think, anyway. But somehow, my gut feeling tells me that the forever-busy type of reader (not every reader falls in that category, mind you, not even the majority, I hazard a guess) would prefer to be hit first time with a volley of intense action.

    What most delighted me was David’s mention of the Malay Peninsula. Hey, that’s my homeland! Thank you, David, for putting my country on the mental map of many readers. FYI, my WIP is a trilogy with 11th century Malaya forming the main site, with South East Asia providing the larger background, and with parts of the trilogy’s story extending all the way to Byzantium in the west and ancient Korea.in the east. Audacious? Oh yeah. If it does make its way into print.

    My advice to David, my amateur advice I have to caution, would be for him to go with his gut feeling and to heck with all those fears. Of course, you’re writing for ‘the reader’, but then which one viewpoint would satisfy all your thousands, or tens of thousands, of prospective readers? The answer is, none. ‘The reader’, the one representing the collective mind of all readers out there, only exists in one’s imagination. Plus, ‘the reader’ that resides in my imagination might be a totally different guy to the one that does in David’s, for instance.

    My rule would be: ‘It’s your yarn, you spin it any way you want’. Without breaking too many of the cardinal rules, of course, as far as possible. Write with boldness and audacity, and the ‘average’ reader would likely respond positively to that. Write with fear and unspoken apology, and he/she will sense it and get tired of it after a while.

    • Hi Ibrahim, thanks for commenting. I tend to write short chapters, in this book at least. Part of the reasoning was that there are seven main characters, and I wanted to keep them all fresh in the readers mind as I established each one. Later on, I allow myself some longer chapters, but as the narrative moves from one to the other, from the Patriots to the Royalists, and from country to country, I felt it best to keep the chapters short.

      I’m glad you liked the mention of the Malay Peninsula. I believe I have a character gazing at an old map of the Spice Islands later in the book, which is around your neck of the woods.

      Your book certainly sounds ambitious, and I respect that. Keep at it! Ambitious projects like that are infinitely harder to write, but can be extremely rewarding too.

      And you are right, you will never please everyone – and I don’t think you should try. Great work, in fact, often divides.

  20. Ibrahim Abdul-Rahman says:

    Correction: In line 2, para 1 of my post, the words ‘the first two chapters’ should have instead read ‘the first two paragraphs’. Typo, sorry.

  21. Ibrahim Abdul-Rahman says:

    Well David, when I first started toying with the idea of a serious writing project (which was like 12 years ago, my goodness!), all I had was a title, which sort of sounded a bit glorious and heroic to me. My intitial plan was just to have some kind of country bumpkin develop into a small time village hero, who first made his name as a killer of thieves and robbers, then a destroyer of pirate bands marauding around the coast, then his achievements got noticed by some regional king. Then he later was to have become minor king of his own small kingdom.

    But as my research progressed, I gradually found out that so many big events and conflicts had occurred in SEA and the vicinity – as well as in other places like West Asia/Levant, South Asia and North Asia – in that period (11th century), so many ancient kingdoms had existed, and alternately warred, treatied, allied and traded among themselves, and my ideas likewise got bigger. My interest/inspiration in HF got a big boost from reading Memnon by Scott Oden. After that, the Troy trilogy by David Gemmell just fired me up, and I just had to start putting pen to paper, or rather finger to keyboard.

    Because the time over which I envisioned my story to unravel would span a good century or so, that meant I needed several generations of heros, rather than a single hero, to carry my final story. Whence, a trilogy was born, and my first title ended up becoming the title of the 3rd part of my trilogy in the works.

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