Blog Award, Squidoo Lens, and a Question About Characters

First, the lovely Anne Whitfield has nominated me for the One Lovely Blog Award! Thanks, Anne! I’ll soon be nominating some blogs myself (if I don’t soon, give me a virtual conk on the head). This leads me naturally to:

Second, for a while I’ve had a Squidoo Lens on Reading Historical Fiction, which I’ve just got around to updating. My question is, do you know of any historical fiction blogs that I’ve missed? I’m not looking for blogs dedicated to a particular author, or author blogs where the author focuses mainly on his or her own writing, or writing-oriented blogs, or blogs that only occasionally discuss historical fiction, but blogs that review primarily historical fiction or post interviews with a variety of historical novelists. If you have one that I’ve left out, just let me know!

Third, Sharon Penman has been answering reader questions over at Library Thing, and she made a comment that intrigued me, “I don’t feel comfortable reading how another writer has treated historical figures I think of as ‘mine.'” Now, I know many other authors feel the same way as Penman, but I’m the polar opposite: I love seeing how other authors treat historical people I’m writing about or have written about. This is just sheer compulsiveness on my part: once I become interested in a historical figure, I want to read everything about him or her, and I haven’t the strength of character to resist simply because he or she’s a person I happen to be writing about.

Many novelists, of course, avoid reading other fictional treatments of their characters because they don’t want to risk unconsciously plagiarizing someone else’s work. That’s the most compelling argument to me in favor of abstinence, though in my completed novels, this wasn’t a great risk for me because my main characters figured into other novels only as supporting characters or as villains. With my novel in progress this is more of a concern, because my heroine is the heroine of other published novels. It’s not a great concern, because the authors of the books in question differ from me greatly in style, and I will be taking a different slant on some events and giving prominent roles to certain supporting characters who play more background roles in the other novels I’ve seen.

I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on this, though: if you’re a writer, do you avoid reading other fictional treatments of your characters? And if you’re a reader, once you’ve read and liked a fictional portrayal of a historical character, do you prefer to keep that picture unsullied by other portrayals? Or are you a character junkie like me, who will keep on reading everything you can about that character?

12 thoughts on “Blog Award, Squidoo Lens, and a Question About Characters”

  1. I am sort of an amateur historical fiction writer — I just recently started my first story based in 19th century England, so I keep trying to get Jane Austen out of my head! Since I'm trying to write more on the romance side, I feel like I could easily use a storyline similar to hers by accident, so I try really hard to be conscious of that. On the other hand, reading Austen is actually very helpful, because I can pick up on all of the 19th century mannerisms that I'm unfamiliar with.

  2. Congratulations on the award!

    I'm closer to your view than Sharon Penman's. I like reading different authors' takes on the same character. Very often a particular portrayal will stick in my mind as feeling somehow 'right', e.g. Rosemary's Sutcliff's Artos in Sword at Sunset is a sort of definitive early medieval King Arthur for me, but I still enjoy reading other versions.

    As for reading about historical characters I'm writing about, chance would be a fine thing 🙂 Early medieval Britain seems to be an unfashionable era, so it rarely happens. I certainly wouldn't avoid it – I like seeing more than one side to any story.

  3. Congratulations for having the 'One Lovely Blog Award' passed on to you. It's well deserved.

    I think I tend more to your take on reading about the same era/character as you, Susan. Like you, my style is mine and not some other author's, no matter how much I may admire the writing. I also don't think I'll ever write a purely historical novel, so maybe that's why I don't think I'm in danger of accidental plagiarism.

  4. Congrats on your award, of course!
    I can attest to your compulsiveness to wanting to know more and everything..
    And as far as Blogs go, there are many cropping up these days. Feel free obviously to pick & choose but more recent adds to my blogroll are (in no particular order):
    Hist-Fic Chick
    All Things Royal
    The Maiden's Court
    Mary Tudor: Renaissance Queen
    Marie Antoinette's Diamonds

    Enjoy your surfing =)

  5. Allie ~ Hist-Fic Chick

    Congrats on your award! I recently discovered your blog through HFO, and I became a follower; so I can say for certain that it is a very well-deserved award!

    I would definitely consider myself a "character junkie"…to a certain point. I first discovered my love of hist-fic by reading Philippa Gregory's novels, followed by everything I could find on Anne Boleyn. Now, I feel the Tudors are a bit played out for me, but I'll still pick up a Tudor read if it strikes my fancy in particular. Other than that, once my fascination with a character strikes, I gobble up any and everything I can find on him/her!

    PS. Thanks for the shutout, Marie! 🙂

  6. I'm not a professional writer, so the plagiarism worry is not a factor.

    That said, I would also be a character junkie, if I were not simply a reading junkie. I don't necessarily search out all available books on a certain character once I've read one I like, but I will definitely read as many as I can find over time about the same character. I could not begin to try to count the books I've read over the years on the Tudors and Victoria- the two eras that I find are the most written about. I never tire of a new perspective- presuming it is well written, of course.

    BTW- I agree strongly that Rosemary Sutcliff wrote what is, for me, the definitive Arthur.

  7. Congratulations!  You deserve the award.

    I, too, am like you.  The book I am working on begins about 1600 and will go at least to 1612, maybe later.  I read everything I can find from the time period to give me a better feel for what it was like.  This includes historical fiction, nonfiction, and contemporaneous works.  My main characters are fictional within the framework of historical events, so I don't worry too much about plagiarism, but I appreciate finding out how others saw the same events and people as will be in my story.  I read so many, I don't see how any one author could color my view too much.

  8. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks for stopping by, everyone! It's good to know that there are other character junkies out there!

  9. Christy English

    Hi Susan, I am a little late to respond, but I am fascinated by the question you pose. I understand and respect Sharon's position, but I love to read about my ladies whenever and wherever I can. (I have written a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine and Princess Alais of France, THE QUEEN'S PAWN, due out in April)Though sometimes it is little strange to see Eleanor and Alais through someone else's eyes, it is always intriguing.

  10. I think my stance is this:
    I have no problems reading someone else's portrayal of a character I'm writing about as usually I have the character so strongly in my head that I wouldn't be influenced by another version.

    As for reading other people's versions after I've written a character, I must admit to a certain (unfair and completely irrational) possessiveness but I think that would be outweighed by curiosity to see how someone else had handled the same character/events.

  11. I'm a "character junkie" as well (though I don't write HF; I've written some as an amateur exercise, but I'm not sure I have the time, skill or discipline to produce anything fit for publication!). It makes for an interesting experience though, because I have a very strong picture of particular figures in my mind, and if one of my favourites is portrayed in a way I dislike or disagree with, I find myself reacting with, "No, that's WRONG!" But it does fascinate me to read different authors' takes on the same people.

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