Isn’t that one huge key to being a writer? That curiosity which leads you down a lane to explore and discover what’s around the next turn and the next one and the next…
Returning from visiting my family in San Francisco recently, I listened with rapt attention to an interview with Jennifer Egan, author of Manhattan Beach and several other award-winning novels (The Goon Squad, The Keep, Look at Me to name a few). Two things that were notable to me were 1) she doesn’t have a pre-planned idea of the direction that her book is going to go and 2) she follows her own curiosities in developing the story. Egan enjoys being surprised as the story develops. Her desire to find out what happens next helps her to maintain her interest in what she is writing.
Manhattan Beach is considered historical fiction. Although the characters are contrived, the references to place and time–the setting are based in fact. Along her writing way, these were some of the things that Egan grew curious about, explored and incorporated into her novel: New York City in the 40’s during World War II–specifically the Brooklyn shipping docks, diving, organized crime during the prohibition era, caring for a disabled child. These well-researched curiosities lent her book the substance and the respect that it has achieved.
“In historical fiction, setting is the most important literary element. Because the author is writing about a particular time in history, the information about the time period must be accurate, authentic…” from Wikipedia
In writing historical fiction, the development of your characters and the unfolding story are superimposed on a ready-made scape of time and place where and when real life events occurred. In a sense, as the writer, you have part of the story mapped out for you. Weaving the historical with the imagined characters, their particular circumstances and where the story goes can be an interesting adventure for the writer and later on, for their audience.
Consider your own curiosities over the course of your life. Write them down. As others occur to you, add them to your list. Do you have a favorite historical time period? More than one. List those also. Have you researched this historical period(s)? Consider how your curiosities can provide you with inspiration and entries into what to write about.
“My esthetic or my method is basically guided by
curiosity and desire…”
She is curious about her universe.