Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dense, or Encompassing?

The work in progress has begun to insist to me that I have to work on a riot in which the citizens of my main setting burn down the synagogues.

Growing up, most of my closest friends were Jewish. My oldest friend, TEO The Elfin One, is not merely Jewish, but a teacher - a rabbi - as is her husband. I have known *about* anti-semitism all my life. But I have never KNOWN it.

To face this aspect of historical fiction, to know it must be a part of my own work, is not exactly difficult for me, but it is of course distasteful.

I've blogged before about how much I dislike writing battle scenes.

But writing what is, essentially, one of the earliest pogroms in what isn't even "Christendom" at this period ...


And it's not merely the content that daunts me, it is the wider prospect of the scene, as a part of its world.

Mr. X and I were emailing yesterday, and he was (as he has always been) one of my favorite readers, all "ooh and ahh" that I wrote the atheism post in like 15 minutes (I had been thinking about it for a day - if not, in some form, for months or years beforehand), and discussing the WIP and generally being that guy and that brain who ruined me for all the other guys' brains, and he said that this scene was going to be dense stuff.

And I thought about that.

And I realized that, if it were dense, it might almost be easier. Something that is dense is, perhaps, also self-contained. It has a shape, and boundaries ...

And this scene is encompassing, instead.

I need to contextualize this scene, this moment, this city of Ravenna in the year 519. It needs to be clear to see, in its place within Theodoric the Great's rule, and alongside Italy itself in this period ... when an old king has taken it on as his kingdom - and has no heir. It needs to have a view to Constantinople, which was becoming the new Rome, and where the Nika Riots would follow soon enough. It needs to find its place and focus in the larger picture of what people will insist upon calling the "Fall" of the Roman empire - and its connection to the imperial structures of Rome and of Constantinople, and also the so-called "Barbarian" cultures flourishing just to the north and west of Ravenna.

I need, too, to see the finer grain - to set this moment in the lives of my characters, and the marshy port city they occupied, to understand the weather and the moment and "why here"/"why now" ... The divisions between the minority Ostrogoths and the diversity of this place - the very scent of the wind, and the heat of the day ...

It's scary stuff. And not least because it is a riot, a racist mob setting fire to houses of worship.

And then comes the question.

How do I set this in the picture of the world I live in, myself?


Donnaeve said...

Sheesh. 519?

My questions would also be, is it necessary as a new direction for the story, i.e. a way to introduce something horrific which actually took place back then, and thereby set the context for the relationships which may have already been suffering? A sort of catalyst to show this was inevitable? IMO, it's about story direction. What will the scene accomplish for your story direction?

Not that you're looking for input. :) The tough scenes are hard to write because, much like a movie playing in your head, you have to go *there.*

DLM said...

I don't think I could write the novel and leave out such a major event taking place in the city. It's a formative crisis for one character comparable to the shooting of Ronald Reagan or 9/11, and it also establishes the extremely important follow up by Theodoric the Great - and, indeed, sheds some light on the earliest instances of anti-semitism within the Christian world. One of the other watershed events, a particular murder, occurs at a moment coinciding with what people like to call "The Dark Ages" ... these things *are* the story.

So the trick is going to be the contextualization.

I have a feeling I may have just figured out how I may spend Super Bowl Sunday!

Donnaeve said...

About the way I will spend mine!

You'll do fine with the scene, I'm sure of it. You might feel like you need a shower afterwards, or a prayer. You might you hate doing these types of scenes, but if it's critical to the time period, it wouldn't make sense to leave it out. Unfortunately.