Sunday, March 23, 2014

Filling in the [brackets]

I'm sure I'm not the only writer who occasionally has to leave a few little gaps while writing an early draft.  We all have our different ways of dealing with this; my own preferred method is to put something inside brackets to remind me later that I need to check something, or decide something, or add something.

Using brackets makes it very easy to search for these once the draft is otherwise complete.  Otherwise, you risk missing some, and leaving in some quite inappropriate things.

For example:  When my protagonist, early 13th-century Roman noblewoman Giacoma de' Settesoli, was traveling from Rome to Assisi, she would probably not have spent the night in [Peoria].

Not this...

Fortunately, I now have a plausible routing for her (see previous post), and so I can decide instead to have her spend the night in Spoleto.  Which is not very much like Peoria.

... but this.

And in the scene where Francis arrives in Rome in 1212 with six of his brothers, the friars are not called [Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff].  I had to look up when certain of his early followers joined him, to figure out who might have been along on that trip.  Nothing difficult there; I just didn't want to interrupt the momentum of writing to do it right at that moment.

Not Bob, Carl, Ted, Alvin, Mutt, and Jeff

A slightly different problem with nomenclature emerged when I needed to figure out names for five minor female characters who are fictional, not historical.   I keep a list of period names, drawn from literature, legal documents, chronicles, and a lot of other sources, and also I have a couple of scholarly studies on Italian naming practices in the 13th and 14th centuries.  But naming characters requires some care -- not too many similar-sounding names, not too many beginning with the same letter, none that are unpronounceable (unless they're also well known historical figures and you don't have much choice).  So I often fill in minor characters' names  later.   That left us with these lovely ladies:

[Annabelle, Jennifer, Maybelline, Sister Muffy, and Sister Carolyn]

In a recent post I mentioned having Giacoma look out the window of her new husband's tower for the first time while he pointed out to her the [Starbucks] nearby.

You probably won't be surprised to learn that there wasn't really a Starbucks outside Giacoma's tower (though I did once see a tower in Pisa - not the tower in Pisa, but another one -- and by the way, several towers in Pisa lean, not just that one.  But I digress.  I did once see a tower in Pisa where a man and his family were locked up and starved to death, the unfortunate Ugolino della Gherardesca, and noticed that there was a snack stand underneath it with a large Coca Cola sign.  Also, there's a castle in Ghent where if you actually shot an arrow out of a particular arrow slit, you'd hit a Chinese restaurant.  But now I really digress.)

But that was now, and this is then.  (That was a real historical novelist's kind of sentence, wasn't it?  I justify it by quoting science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, who took some pride in having written "The people in this book might be going to have lived a long, long time from now in Northern California.")

I have several excellent books on Rome in the middle ages, including a modern translation of an actual guide to Rome used by pilgrims and tourists in the 13th century (Mirabilia Urbis Romae), so this one should have been a shoo-in.  It wasn't.  Those books are fine for the better-known monuments and the ones that survive, but Giacoma's palace, which incorporated the ancient Roman Septizonium, was razed for building materials in the 1500s.  (It's possible to use Google Maps Street View to look at the foundations, though.) 

Arch of Drusus

It looked like she might have gazed down upon the Arch of Drusus, but finding same on the map convinced me that wasn't likely.  I found a nearby church that might have been within sight, which was handy because I needed the name of a church in the neighborhood, but I wasn't quite certain of what would be visible from up there.  It would depend on what else was around at the time.  But I did finally come up with two things:

One, the location where the body of Saint Sebastian (he of the many arrows) was supposedly stuffed into a sewer.  It's right across the street.  And I'll bet that in the 13th century that meant there would have been a shrine there. 

And two, she would have been within sight of the Circus Maximus, which at that time was controlled by her husband's family (the Frangipane) and was largely taken over by vines and other agricultural plantings, and by a mill.  But it also contained this tower, known as the Torre di Moletta:

So that takes care of the view.   I still had a few items to fix, however.  For one thing, I knew that cardinals were not yet called "Your Eminence" at that date, but I had to find out what they were called ("Lord," or "Your Lordship").  Not, as I had it, [Your Redness] -- a doubly unfortunate choice, as cardinals were not yet wearing red except in a limited way and under certain carefully defined conditions.

Also, I needed to choose a virgin martyr (did that), figure out which nearby small town a certain character came from (check), and decide what would replace the phrase [something dessert-ish], referring to a food prepared by Giacoma's cook, Amata.

[something dessert-ish]
There are moments when I wonder why I spend so much time on this sort of thing.  After all, is anybody who reads this book going to know what Giacoma could see from her window?  Or which virgin martyr has a story appropriate to what I want?

Yes.  I'll know.  And because I can be very pigheaded about these things, that's enough.  So I'm not going to just say that she could see the Tiber from her window, however tempting and easy that would be.  In Puccini's opera Tosca, the heroine is often said to throw herself from the parapet at the Castel Sant'Angelo and wind up in the Tiber.  When I finally saw the Castel Sant'Angelo, I realized that wasn't going to happen.  Not without a hang glider, she doesn't.  And I didn't want to create something equally silly. 

Castel Sant'Angelo and Tiber

Images in this post are in the public domain, with the exception of the photo of Peoria, which is licensed to Rklawton (Robert Lawton) via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license, the photo of Starbucks, which is licensed to Elvert Barnes via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license, and the photo of Castel Sant'Angelo, which is licensed to MarkusMark via the Creative Commons Atribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Kathryn Louise Wood said...

Tinney, I always put an *asterisk in front of questionable-must-be-further-researched material as I'm writing. I, too, don't wish to slow the flow and, being one who is easily distracted and have a passion for research, I'd find myself caught up in a literary log jam if I didn't use this method. So...when the time is right, I use the "Find" feature in Word and attack those lovely little stars with glee!

Tinney Heath said...

Kathryn, I agree that it's wise to have something easily searchable to keep you from leaving in something that was never intended to see the light of day. I call that feature my "search-and-destroy" feature.