That Moment When Historical Fiction Isn’t Fiction
You’ve plotted your historical fictional short story. You’ve performed the research to the minutest detail, so the story is historically correct. The words of your story unfold in your editor and suddenly your initial story and your research meld together to reveal your story isn’t fictional at all. Has your muse tricked you or are history (reality) and fiction (make-believe) related in some way?
Mark Twain said, “The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.”
In my current fictional novella WIP: MASKED IDENTITIES there is a historical fiction short story interwoven within a contemporary storyline. The interior story takes place in 1890 London and focuses on a developing relationship between two young men from opposite sides of the tracks – so to speak. Their relationship is prohibited by Victorian law because they are of a homosexual persuasion.
I selected springtime, initially the second week of April for the interior story because spring is generally the season associated with romance. A note here – the Victorian story is not a full-on gay romance, but a budding attraction.
In the story, two men meet by accident at a public place. I researched popular establishments where young London gentlemen could accidentally meet, yet be believable. I narrowed my options to three popular locations doing business in April 1890.
Since I’ve never set foot in London nor did I live in the Victorian era. I reconstructed a map of London out of 15 pages of typing paper which I taped onto the wall behind my desk. (Google Search and I became quite good friends during the four months spent on online research.) I marked each potential location on my crude map to comprehend their proximity. The marked locations included where each young man resided, possible sites for their meetings and so on.
I decided on the locations for each scene. First was a trendy pub frequented by young Londoners after an evening performance at a nearby theater. My research turned up playbills for the theatrical productions at the chosen theater during the month of April. I further discovered actual images of the production reviews in archived newspapers of the time period and an original menu from the pub where the first meeting occurred.
The second meeting was at Hyde Park and later the young men cross the street to the Queen’s Horse Guard Barracks. While in the barracks, the young men are rounded up in a raid organized by Scotland Yard. This is where research (history) and story (fiction) headed for a collision course. There was an actual raid on the barracks, substantiated by newspaper accounts and (old) Scotland Yard records. The raid took place one week before the date I had arbitrarily selected for my story. I checked the playbills for the theatrical production at the Queen’s Palace Theater and discovered one of the most successful theatrical productions of 1890 played at the theater during the same week of the barracks raid. I moved the story setting up one week to correspond with the historical data.
Other than the fictional characters in the interior story, the short story depicts actual events and business establishments per historical records. I thought my story was simply something I’d concocted in my imagination until my research data proved otherwise. The remaining research fleshed out terminology, slang phrases, and recreating a similar writing voice of that used in under-the-counter “smut” stories sold during the Victorian era.
Following the completion of the first rewrite, I submitted the manuscript (through an author friend via her ex-boyfriend) to the Royal Historical Society, London, England. After several emails back and forth from the Society, my manuscript was verified as being historically and technically accurate.
Was it a coincidence my made up story parallelled events in history? Or, are there no more original stories to tell, only the art of retelling? Or, in a past life, did I live in Victorian London? Or maybe “It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.” — Rod Serling, introduction to the 1959-1964 TV Series.
MASKED IDENTITIES (fictional novella)
Brooke thought she had read every book in Grandad’s extensive collection of fiction until she stumbles upon an unfamiliar title. Curious, she delves into the book, to realize her own relationship with her boyfriend of four years parallels the Victorian short story she is reading of Ezra and Christian. Can a story of infatuation between two men provide the answers to salvage her floundering relationship?
The manuscript is currently being evaluated by Beta Readers. Anticipated to be released later in the year.
fiction with an lgbt twist