As any author will tell you, conflict is the essence of drama. It’s the primary ingredient that weaves together the other elements of a novel. Without conflict, you don’t have a novel. You also need a structured story arc, with subplots and a solution.
These principles, however, don’t quite fit when writing historical fiction. In history, the action, conflict and plot don’t necessarily follow a straight course, and often there isn’t a clean cut climax to give that satisfactory resolution all readers want when they close the back of the book.
Real life is messy, loose ends don’t necessarily tie up and there isn’t always a happy, or even an acceptable ending because in real life, heroes and villains don’t always get what they deserve.
Where the mists of time separate the author from the facts, who can really know how the characters felt at that time, so a certain amount of licence is required to make the story something a reader wants. True - that’s what makes a novel rather than a biography, but it is those details which present problems with my latest novel, and I have no idea how to begin solving it.
The external conflict is restricted to historical happenings and timelines, so I have to make the internal conflict stand out – but when that same ambition runs through the series of events and repetitions occur – and at which point do my readers become bored with the same thread?
In writing a first person novel, I’m also faced with setting credible scenes that my 17th century female heroine is likely to have been involved in. She won’t see any battles, and she’s unlikely to be a party to military and political activity. Nor is she going to be part of the Oxford Parliament of 1644, so how do I involve her in the action that takes her outside clichéd dinner parties and girly chats in drawing rooms?