I attended a local class on historical fiction last weekend. It covered challenges specific to the genre (time/time frame, historical figures vs. fictional characters, POV) but the most useful discussion regarded the balance of documentable fact vs. creative license.
I approach my historical fiction the way I approach historical costume: there’s room for a spectrum of accuracy long as I know where and how I’m cutting corners. So far my inner history nerd has adhered closely to the timeline of Dee’s diaries. After discussing my approach with the instructor, she suggested I may be limiting myself out of fear of writing actual fiction.
The short version: she suggested that Jane Dee, not Edward Kelley, should be my protagonist.
I am not convinced she is wrong.
When I start I wanted Jane to be my central character because I imagine her life with two occultists as a strange and stressful one seldom (never?) examined fictionally. Then I had difficulty finding an obvious story arc for her and my research led me down the rabbit hole of Kelley’s motives so I abandoned the idea.
The instructor pointed out that Jane Dee’s lower profile in the diaries is a perfect excuse to make things up. There’s more freedom to create a story that isn’t slavishly locked into Dee’s day-by-day spirit diaries. The possibility that a female protagonist might sell better to a readership that is mostly women is a nice bonus.
This is exhilarating and scary at the same time, and I’ve spent the last week in a shaky creative exhale. I still need a story arc, so I’m playing with the seven point outline and identifying gaps where Jane might be acting without Dee’s knowledge. I’ve not abandoned the story of Edward Kelley’s descent into madness, but I’m experimenting with him visiting Jane’s world rather than the other way around.
Essentially I’m writing two books at once, and trusting that the protagonist will reveal themselves in rewrites.