Marquee was a word that came up at the Historical Novel Society Conference I attended in June. Should the main character be a marquee character or not….in other words, someone historically famous? Yes, seemed to be the consensus of New York (as in agents and editors). Philippa Gregory‘s best selling Tudor novels are the source of this.
I had just written a marquee novel, but not on purpose. I wrote it because it was what had to be written in the unfolding saga of the Tamworth family, this family who lives so strongly in my imagination, Barbara and Alice and Richard and Tony and others. Even though no Tamworths were in my marquee novel (there was a slight reference in the draft that was part of a larger scene I ended up cutting), Louis XIV had been brooding way in the background, waiting for me. Somehow, it had to do with this family, with the huge outside forces in their lives.
And now, as I walk carefully around the nesting egg of the next novel, it won’t have a marquee character carrying the story, though likely Louis* and Athenais and Louise will have their places in it. It will likely be similar to Dark Angels, fictional characters reacting to or intimate with actual historical figures. (I adored Charles Stuart and his wayward family. It was great fun to write about them all.)
I just believe in story. The story within drives me. What do you believe in? What makes a good story? A story you want to read? Should the main character be a name, if it’s historical? Why?
*More from my new favorite film Le Roi Danse….I love the actor who plays Louis….
Your creativity is astounding! Blessings on the nesting egg!
“I just believe in story” captures so much. Thank.
If it’s going to be a historical fiction, then certainly, yes, wrap it around a marquee character. Here’s why: they’re renowned, but readers of present day have no idea of their true character, their idiosyncracies, what made them celebrated if they were celebrity in their own time. By enveloping a story around this type of character, you wonderful authors give us a glimpse into what that person could have been (a lover, a fighter, a slob, a hoarder, a whore, a cheat, a zealot, a good guy or a louse!). You flesh out for us- even if it’s not quite real- the “person” of their personality, the human in their human-ness, under their famous name.
I don’t care if you don’t get details and conversations right, by the way. It’s the strong characterization that makes the story. A perfect example of this is theTom Hanks movie, Cast Away. A crash, a lonely island, no speaking, his companion is a volleyball. But we witness human psychological and eventually relational transformation with little dialog and it’s fantastic. A good story can be great just by WHO is in it, not just what happens. And I think you happen to be a master at writing great “Who’s”: (Barbara, Roger, Tony, Philipe, Diana, especially Diana!)
I can see how using a marquee character would be daunting. The historical figures in this time were nothing if not mysterious and driven by things that we may know nothing about. But that’s also what makes marquee novels so thrilling. My favorite marquee novel is The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. There isn’t a more fascinating marquee character than Elizabeth I to me, and that book explored a period of time that hasn’t really been explored before.
I have just recently finished reading your books. I found Dark Angels at a tag sale (a signed one too, btw), and read it by candlelight in a day and a half during a hurricane and subsequent blackout. I then ordered Through a Glass Darkly and Now Face to Face. I fell in love with the characters and didn’t want the story to end. You have a gift for creating characters, and I think that you should continue to do so.
With fictional characters, you can build a story completely your own, while at the same time giving us a glimpse into the lives of historical figures and events. The people surrounding monarchs and historical figures have just as much impact on history as they do.
I have never heard the term marquee characer before. interesting.
I like what you have done in the past. The main characters were not marquee characters and made it possible for them to be more believable to me because I had no preconceived notions about them. Marquees were only the supporting cast. Boy, did Richard and Alice make the story sing. They could be whatever you wanted them to be to a broader degree than possible with a marquee character. RIght? I think we are all saying the same thing in different ways.
To me, Louis was interesting but Alice and Richard are far more fascinating. I can see them all converging into a wonderful story.
To me, historical fiction demands the inclusion of marquee characters to give the story the grounding in fact which sets it apart (and above) straight fiction. Although the central characters can be complete invention, knowledge, skill and discipline is required to create a credible story around actual events. The mix of fact and fiction is what makes the novel exciting – the real life characters help to bring the invented ones to life. I care that historical facts are accurately portrayed And I need to be able to believe that the invented characters could have existed and done the things the story reveals. Above all, whether marquee character or invented, the reader has to care about them. That’s the secret of the success of the Tamworths – all of them make the reader want to discover more about them: what they wear, eat, think, where they live, what their surroundings are like etc. I long to know more about Diana as a child and young woman, I want to know what happened to Alice and Richard after they married – how tantalising the glimpses of the relationship between Richard and Roger!- and I want that 30 year gap between Dark Angels and Through A Glass Darkly to be filled in. It was such an eventful time in British history, and it’s been overshadowed by the current obsession with all things Tudor!
I really like what you said and how you said it.