Thursday, 26 April 2007

The value of minutia

I have been reading family histories again. I find them really useful because of the wealth of information about the lives of the people listed such as ages and birth dates, marriages, separations, where people were born and how. Obviously, these things are what families want to know and these histories serve that function.

If I am to tell a realistic story of the Jaeckels, these kinds of details of everyday life are vital. I have two histories borrowed from the local school library and I will look for more at the historical society and at the State Library. I want to build up a mental image of my family so that I can write about them without being didactic.

I find in a lot of historical novels (particularly those aimed at young readers), details aren’t incorporated into the flow of the narrative but are forced into the text. Sometimes it almost seems to be a form of cultural superiority – “Oh, look at the funny natives.” Other times, it has the tone of a learned teacher discoursing about the past. I don’t want to do that. I want to tell a story that will carry people along learning about the past as imperceptibly as possible.

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