A few weeks ago I wrote the magic words THE END to my latest novel, and since then I’ve been tackling my edits. In the central section, I found I’d got the time line really twisted, and that took some untangling. I spotted passages that were most definitely ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’. Redrafting these passages is a treat, because by using the active tense and lively words, and writing a scene as dialogue and interaction rather than description, you can make your writing spring into life.
I have also pondered the comments of the kind souls who volunteered to read my work for me. These were really helpful – and even if I eventually decided not to make a change, at least I was forced to think about what I had written and justify my treatment to myself.
But I also discovered there was something else I needed to do. This is a historical novel, set in the late 18th century. I’ve done a stack of reading, boned up on the period, the setting, fashion, language, homes, habits, even funerals and sanitation. This particular novel, however, hinges around a bit of a mystery – a real one – and it wasn’t until I got to the end that I realised that readers may not even be aware that there is a mystery!
I needed to give some background and context.
In my contemporary novels, I wrote about a fictional town in East Lothian called Hailesbank, and I decided to give it its own history, which I inserted into the beginning of every book. Not having written a historical before, I hadn’t considered adding Author’s Notes – but they are definitely needed here.
So what should I include? Here’s what I decided.
- Background information. What is actually known, what has been widely assumed – and what don’t we know? Many people will think they know the answer, and I definitely need to flag up that there are doubts about the facts of the issue.
- What I discovered when doing the research. In this case, many things – but one or two bits of information I came across really helped to shape the story. For example, my heroine is from a comfortably-off family (father a lawyer, mother has brought further wealth to the marriage). She has never had to think about money – until the French declare war on Britain in 1783 and the banks go into meltdown. The financial crisis also hits other characters in the book.
- Did I have to make compromises in the telling of my story? Did I have to manipulate dates, have characters meet who would probably never have met, and so on.
- Medical facts. My heroine has an unfortunate problem. I might discuss what was known about it at the time, and the effects it would have had on her and others in the same position.
- Fact or fiction? My heroine is fictional, but her best friend was real. However, she didn’t go to the school I sent the two of them to – it didn’t exist! But the conditions described are detailed in a contemporary account.
- Real people? I’ll definitely tell readers which of my figures come from history and which characters I have invented.
My aim is to add to the reader’s understanding of the period and the issues, and enhance their experience of reading the book.
Do you read Author’s Notes, particularly in historical novels? And if so, do you think they add to your experience, or detract from it?