Victoria King-Voreadi is a mystery writer who co-authored a novel set in the run-up to World War II. As such, I asked her if she could guest on the Fighter Writer with a post on combining fact with fiction when writing about true historical events.
Historical Fiction: Combining Fact and Fantasy
by Victoria King-Voreadi
In trying to trace the origins of resource materials regarding our anti-hero Georg Elser for our manuscript Interrogation Tango, Donald Schwarz and I often asked the question “Who actually wrote this stuff?” There were sinister circumstances surrounding the Elser case, such a startling array of contradictory accounts, all claiming to be drawn from “authentic” sources. It appeared that someone had gone to a lot of trouble to muddy the waters.
We must respect fact when working with historic events or personages within a fictional context. The challenge lies in separating fact from erroneous interpretation. In our story’s case the only solid point of reference was the act itself: yes, Georg Elser planted a device that blew up the Burger Brau Keller and people were killed – although the primary target, Adolph Hitler, left only minutes before the explosion and thus escaped harm. The possible “hows” and “whys” that propelled Elser to carry out his attempt are numerous and subject to rampant speculation – luckily for us that is where the fiction comes in, even for historians!
The new generation of history academics has revolutionized the lay approach to history by becoming skilled story tellers. This revelation allows their work to be appreciated by and thus reach a far broader audience. It is a heady feeling to address a lecture hall brimming with eager eyed students hanging on your every word, but royalty checks from “retail readers” have an equally powerful appeal. If this popularization of history gets more people reading I’m all for it! It is sort of like what Carl Sagan did for astrophysics in the 1970’s with Cosmos.
History is full of amazing events, and embroiled in every amazing event are fascinating characters. Barring the existence of an authenticated personal journal spelling out the motives behind any historic figure’s actions, the best any of us can do is to apply intelligent speculation. That is the “artistic license” we as writers have: by applying our common sense and igniting our imagination, we can invest even historic characters with interesting motives that will engage the reader and provide the character’s actions with a realistic context.
Coming back to our story, Interrogation Tango, some accounts of the event portrayed Georg Elser as a people’s hero, others as a cold blooded assassin. For our purposes that non-descript carpenter was a man, the man next door, with a bundle of complex factors driving him toward a rendezvous with history. Why was it that his story was swept under the rug? It is an interesting question to ask: why are we usually so content to accept the “authorities” accounts of historic events with little if any skepticism?
If you plan to write historical fiction you’ll need to do a lot of research. But in the end it is human nature which dictates any character’s choices and actions – their secret list of personal desires and fears. Think about the men and women, the passionate souls behind the events and let them guide your pen.
I just love the title of J.C.’s blog. Being a writer demands many skills on many levels as well as an incredible amount of self-discipline. In that respect writing might well be the ultimate martial art! We can only wonder at how many empires, fortunes, reputations, myths and legends have been built or broken by wily wielding of the quill!
About the Author
Victoria lives in the city of Herákleionon on the island of Crete, Greece with her husband and two beautiful daughters. A freelance writer and translator in Greece since 1992 she has received two screenwriting grants from the EEU Media Programme for both original and commissioned feature scripts, has worked on local and foreign productions. Victoria met her co-author Donald E. Schwarz in 1994 while visiting New York and the two instantly struck up a creative partnership
Here is more information about Victoria’s book:
Interrogation Tango is an anti-detective story, based on real events and people, about an assassin who drove the Gestapo crazy because they could not explain him away.