Saturday, February 23, 2013

Character Decisions

When I first became inspired to think about what is now my WIP, it was during the course of research on The Ax and the Vase, as that research exposed me to Clovis' sister, Audofleda, and her daughter, Amalasuntha.  The WIP itself is still in research mode, so it is not merely possible but likely that its shape will change a lot, but I have always found when I talk about it that Amalasuntha tends to be my focus (in some ways, I still leave open the possibility that the novel will focus on Audofleda, Amalasuntha, and Matasuentha, the third generation of this matrilineage), but Ama is definitely prominent, and has been the subject of the few actual scenes I've written.
Image:  Wikimedia

The research spanning both works included not only reading, but images, and there are several available images of Amalasuentha available online.  When I first encountered them, the peculiarity of her eyes was perhaps the most striking feature.  I thought at the time that this was not reflective of a stylistic convention, and wondered whether she might have had what we now call Graves' disease (the condition which gave Marty Feldman his distinctive appearance).  This actually appealed to me, as it was a dead-cert against turning Ama into any sort of a Mary Sue, and gave her a built in obstacle to work against.

More recently, of course, I've seen other prominent period work with similarly prominent eyes, and begun to question my assumptions about contemporary art.  Here we have an image which appears definitely to be a different person, and is attributed as most likely being Theodora, the notorious empress, wife of Justinian I, who had some fascinating issues with Amalasuntha:


The face and features are far too long to be a portrayal of the same woman shown in the first bust above; there's nothing in common between then but the noticeably wide eyes.  (For a truly fascinating partial reconstruction of the human face this stone image could have represented, take a look here.)  More importantly, there's nothing in the source material to point to such a notable condition in Ama's health.

The time it takes to work on a piece of historical fiction (at least the time *I* seem to take) provides time for ideas to change, and this can help a work and even change the nature of a character.  This can be disillusioning, sometimes - when the expectations you go in with are contradicted or reversed.  It can also be exhilarating, if in writing you embrace chance, change, and following the leads.

For my writing readership:  has any of you ever experienced a reversal in your work - whether due to your research, due to the story itself, or for some other reason?  I'm fascinated by the turns writing takes; tell me about your own unexpected "plot twists" ...

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