Monday, December 8, 2008

Put a Lampshade On It!

You might think that writing a work of historical fiction is all about getting the facts right and telling an interesting story around them. I think that's mostly true. But what about when the facts aren't as interesting as you'd like, or the facts are in dispute?

If Miles Davis had been a writer, he might have said, "It's the facts you don't write."

Case in point for me is the problem, first raised by Reader Ray, that the body of Mark might not have been in the place where I have my protagonists find it.

The History of the Coptic church puts the body in the rival Melkite church at that time. Norwich's History of Venice, drawing from European sources, puts it in the Coptic church. Most other authorities are ambiguous, saying only that it came from Alexandria.

My problem is that I want Mark to come from the Coptic church which he founded, and I don't want to confuse the reader by including the Melkites. But I don't want to be wrong either. So what's an author to do?

One tactic is called, "putting a lampshade on it.". That is, to point out within the narrative that I know about the problem. It's a footnote without footnoting.

You can see lampshading in many popular works. An good example would be Jack Bauer making a comment about how he seems to have one really bad day a year. The writers are saying, in effect, "we know this is implausible. Give us a break, and enjoy."

So, Mark stays with the Copts, and I include this exchange:

"I'll go to the church," Buono said, "and speak to the priests myself."

"My dear Buono, I urge you, do not. The situation is too delicate," Claudius warned.

"You just don't want me going without you."

"Yes, because you stand to ruin everything I've worked for! Look, Buono, the body may not even be there. Some say it lies in the Melkite church, all but the head!"

Buono frowned. "Now, you're just trying to complicate matters," he said.

And that's what makes it fiction- and hopefully a good read.

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