Krakow Diary #2 (Novel Rules #1)

There are two ways to go about this.

A: I start my third non-fiction book.
B: I venture into novel territory.

As a journalist I know I can write another non-fiction book and I trust myself to make it good. A novel on the other hand, is untried territory.

The problem with a novel is this: Most of them are so bad. Wouldn’t you agree with me that we have arrived at the literary age when non-fiction as literature has taken the throne once occupied by the novel? (In literature, I mean. In fiction in general, clearly TV has taken over when the novel has gone all soft and mushy and useless.)

Especially regarding historical novels, i.e. novels about the Middle Ages: They're mostly so bad. You can tell that the writers are intimidated and have sought refuge in research. As with most historical movies, everything's about the set. The camera concentrates on getting the pretty pictures right, and so do the writers.

A good historical novel about the Middle Ages would have to read like, say… Angela's Ashes. It has to give you the feeling the writer was there. No, that's not right. It has to read as if the narrator is a real person, and more than that: a huckster, a con man, a preacher, a troubadour. Even if he's from the Middle Ages, he has to be able to take you in and carry you away, like Long John Silver.

Some historical novels that succeed in this: Lonesome Dove. The Sotweed Factor. Who else? Maybe The Name of the Rose: Eco wasn't trying to write like a medieval, he was writing like a modern storyteller, a modern-day academic with a dash of irony.

The first rule, then, of writing a historical novel, is writing it as if you were telling a modern-day tale about your funny adventures and cool friends.


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