Friday, February 17, 2012

Writing "About" History Rather Than Writing Actual Historical Fiction

I've been spending a lot of time these past two weeks researching markets, which means that I'm reading a lot short stories and essays at journals, trying to judge if these publications would be good places to submit some of my own work. That's how I came to read The Map by Don Schwartz. Seriously, I'm not just spending mass quantities of time reading.

The Map deals with some modern Germans' discovery of a map of the Warsaw Ghetto. The story has an element of magical realism, I think. But the reason I'm mentioning this adult piece of fiction here, at a blog relating to children's writing, is the author's way of dealing with historical material. I found it particularly interesting since we were just talking about historical fiction here a couple of days ago, and in the comments of that post, Tanita Davis wrote about how when she was working on a historical novel, her editor wanted a hook in the present day. The Map takes place in the present day, and the magical map is the hook that connects the present to the past.

Schwartz is writing in the twenty-first century, and he can't be sure how much his readers will know about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. So what does he do in this two character story? "What do you know about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising?" the secondary character asks. The first-person narrator responds, "Is this another history question? Because you know I know nothing about history."

This gives the secondary character, who knows lots about history, an opportunity to tell what he knows about the uprising. It also, by the way, gives him the opportunity to say, "How convenient for a German," a bit of commentary.

The "What do you know about..." question to give a character an opportunity to spill info isn't anything new. But it's used very well here.

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