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History and Fiction

Writers, their Research, Worlds and Stories

Gillian Polack

Shortlisted for the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism or Review

Fiction plays a vital role in describing history and transmitting culture. How writers understand and use history can play an equally important role in how they navigate a novel. This book explores the nature of the author’s relationship with history and fiction – often using writers’ own words – as well as the role history plays in fiction.
Focusing on genre fiction, this study considers key issues in the relationship between history and fiction, such as how writers contextualise the history they use in their fiction and how they incorporate historical research. The book also addresses the related topic of world building using history, discussing the connections between the science fiction writers’ notion of world building and the scholarly understanding of story space and explaining the mechanics of constructing the world of the novel. This book places the writing of fiction into a wider framework of history and writing and encourages dialogue between writers and historians.

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Chapter 9: The writer’s relationship with narrative: Tools and techniques

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← 158 | 159 →CHAPTER 9

The writer’s relationship with narrative: Tools and techniques

What has emerged in the course of this study is that writers’ relationships with their narrative are important to understanding how writers position the history in their work. This chapter focuses on the narrative itself. It presents a ‘novelist’s skills audit’ that helps elucidate further the writer’s relation with the narrative and what tools writers use to introduce their particular narrative to the reader and help form the reader’s expectations. This includes some discussion of how writers indicate genre at the beginning of a work; in other words, some of the means by which writers indicate to readers the path that the readers should expect the narrative will travel. It also examines how writers use specific constructs (including ones that indicate a sense of place and time) to create bridges between the reader and the narrative. This chapter examines why stylistic choices assist the writer in communicating both history and story to the reader.

All historical narratives are interpretative acts; that is, all historical narratives create a relationship between the reader and the past. Novels that incorporate history are interpretative acts that include choices of form as well as choices of content and style. If the story focuses on politics and military strategy, the language is likely to be spare, for instance, and descriptions of clothes are likely to focus on elements that suggest rank. The choices of detail a writer makes...

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