Monday, July 9, 2012

The protagonist in a historical fiction does not have to champion today’s ideals


This can apply to any society, real or fictional, that is not the one the author is living in, but historical fiction authors seem to be the biggest offenders.

Every single historical fiction book that I have ever read that took place in a time and area where slavery was ordinary had one thing in common: the protagonist didn’t like slavery and was against it.  Usually they were very outspoken about it.  They educated their less enlightened friends on the evils of slavery.  It’s almost like the author is trying to convince the readers through the characters that slavery is wrong.  I hate to say it, author, but pretty much everybody currently alive is going to agree with you.  This is no new revelation.  However, I suspect that most authors who do this are not intentionally trying to use the book as a way of showing the evils of slavery.  They are instead assuring the readers that they themselves do not support slavery, even though the book takes place in a time when that was a popular opinion.

True fact: nobody will think you support slavery if the main character in your historical fiction does.  That’s the great thing about history: people thought completely differently.  Nobody will think you are racist or sexist or homophobic if your main character comes from a time when that was the norm and holds those views.  Ninety-nine out of one hundred people won’t be offended either, because they know that A) it’s historical and B) it’s fiction.  Hey!  Historical and fiction — we could make a genre out of this!

It’s hilarious how authors will do heavy research into how people dressed and portray with incredible accuracy the daily hardships of past life, but then have the main character have the exact same morality as people have today.  If it makes you uncomfortable for your protagonist to have such different morals from you, then good.  It always helps to write outside of your comfort zone.  If you are interested at all in learning about other cultures, then writing a protagonist with different morals than you should be fun.

One of the most important parts in portraying a time in history is showing how people in that time thought.  Too many either forget this altogether or have everybody but the protagonist be realistic for the time.  To make a truly realistic historical fiction, historical mindsets must be taken into account.