Writing Practice and Meeting Up With Your Muse
Writing Leap #75
Writing Stories From History
Historical Fiction is a blend of your imagination and historical facts. It takes place in a definite period of time and place in history. Your characters are involved in a conflict or situation that is real for that time period.
The serious challenge for us writers is to avoid historical cliché. We have to do our research on the period and then plunge ourselves back there. You don’t have to spell out the historical facts but they should be hovering underneath your fiction.
So writers. Do you have a moment or place in history that feels curiously familiar? Or that intrigues you? You could take yourself on an imaginary time travel trip back there, absorb what it looks like, feels like, sounds like. Did you meet anyone you liked? Loved? Feared? Then transport yourself back home and write about it.
I’m intrigued by the First Thanksgiving in Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1621. I’m also sympathetic to fourteen-year-olds wrestling with their beliefs. Both appear in my story.
I thought about what might have gone on between the colonists and members of the Wampanaug tribe around that long wooden outdoor table. Did they talk somehow or did they gesture? Did they eat much? Were they suspicious of each other or trying to be friendly? Based on two slim accounts, 32 colonists and 90 Wampanaug feasted together on duck, geese, venison, maybe pumpkin and squash. Nobody knows if the Wampanaug were even invited or just showed up. With five deer. But they were welcomed. Chief Massasoit had signed a peace treaty with the Pilgrims.
Here’s my imagining of that first gathering.
The First Thanksgiving
He would eat standing up. To sit next to an ash-skinned man at a crowded table, maybe have to touch arms, would kill him.
He was fourteen.
He was a ferocious Wampanaug warrior.
And he would stand.
As far away from those moon-colored faces showing all their teeth as he could.
Which wasn’t far. He felt his father’s eyes flashing fire at him.
But even if his father suspected his thoughts he would never see them on his son’s face. The muscles around the young warrior’s eyes and mouth were as still as stone.
His sharpened weapon hung loosely at his side begging him to grab it.
Lots of gunfire this morning from this white settlement. Surely an attempt for a full out attack on his whole tribe. Peace Treaty? Ha. He wasn’t a fool. His blood raged. He would devour them. Chop them up like whale meat. He was well aware of how easy that would be for him.
She brought him a platter of paleface overcooked venison and stupid-looking sqishy cranberries. She was his age, he thought, but mush. Not hard and magnificent like his mother and his sisters.
“Seconds,” she asked? Washed out blue eyes. Worst of all she had yellow straw for hair. A freak.
He just stared.
And then pinched her breast through her starched apron. Hard.
Her mouth flew open and her eyes rolled back and she collapsed to the ground. In a dead faint.
He didn’t have to look at his father to see the gesture of fury directed at him. It said, “Leave. NOW.” He walked back into the woods and mounted his horse. Had his fearless father gone soft? His heart shrank with pain at the thought. No, impossible. He stiffened as he felt the terror coursing inside his body. He leaned forward and put his head on his horse’s neck. “Is it just you and me now,” he whispered in his horse’s ear? He rode on through the woods like that, leaning over with his head resting on his horse’s neck, for a long time, even closing his eyes.
The horse sped up. The young warrior sat up straight, squinted his eyes and clenched his mouth. He was ready for his public shaming, in front of the whole tribe, sure to come.
Happy Writing Everyone and Happy Thanksgiving!
LINKING THE ARTS
An Evocative Engraving by Charles Henry Granger, 19th century, entitled, “The Pilgrims Receiving Massasoit.
Maybe my fuming young warrior is in this crowd?
This post is a rewritten version of my November 16, 2013 post, “Writing Historical Fiction.” I reimagined the character of my young Wampanaug warrior, putting myself deeper into his head and heart. What might this experience felt like to him?
I Like this Book
Thanksgiving by Sam Sifton, National Editor and former restaurant critic for The New York Times. He is very funny. His book is full of tips and comments both culinary and amusing.