What’s harder than keeping a secret?

Answer: trickling out the secret little by little so that maybe readers get it, maybe not.  It can’t be too obvious, but all the info has to be there from the beginning so that when the book is done, the reader says, “Hey, DUH! I should have seen that coming!”  It can’t be so clear that the narrator or main character seems thick for not getting it right away.  If the reader should figure it out, they should be sympathetic with the MC for not seeing through the shroud of deception.  Little lines form characters can foreshadow the truth, but can’t be like a mallet beating the reader on the head.

Yesterday I had one of those “aha!” moments where the motivations for my characters because much clearer.  The fiction part of the “historical fiction” really started to work.  I feel a bit funny playing, “what if?” with a guy like Cicero, but really, I think I’ve come up with a situation for him which really gives him a reason for many of the things he did.  On the surface, when one reads a book about such a well-documented person, it might seem like there is little one can contribute.  But on a personal level, day to day life, with his family, we really don’t know much of anything in the large scope of things.  We get a rare glimpse through his letters with Atticus into some of his personal matters (nothing beats the letter in which he confesses a bad bout of diarrhea after eating something foul), we can even see some of the sincerity behind some of the letters with his wife by looking at the letters themselves (the tear-smeared ink of one of his letters when he was in exile).  But we can only guess at the things that lie between and behind these things.  
Another thing I find fascinating is the polarity of people’s opinions of Cicero.  D.R. Shackleton Bailey touched on this in the afterword of his Cicero: Classical Life and Letters.  Here, he quotes a story by Kingsley Amis called “Take a Girl like You,” whose main character is a young schoolmaster reading the Second Philippic (oration against Mark Anthony) in class (from chapter 5):

The last forty minutes had been spent in taking, or rather hauling, the Junior Sixth through not nearly enough of In Marcum Antonium II.  For a man so long and so thoroughly dead it was remarkable how much boredom, and also how precise an image of nasty silliness Cicero could generate.  ‘Anthony was worth ten of you, you bastard,” Patrick said.

The final paragraph of Shackleton Bailey’s afterword was one of the things which inspired me to write about Cicero in the first place:

Is it not time to value Cicero by other standards than his own?  Not as a statesman, moralist, and author, but as the vivid, versatile, gay, infinitely conversable being who captivated his society and has preserved so much of himself and it in his correspondence.  Alive, Cicero enhanced life.  So can his letters do, if only for a student here and there, taking time away from belittling despairs to live among Virgil’s Togaed People, desperate masters of a larger world.


One thought on “What’s harder than keeping a secret?

  1. The heart of your post is this: “the fiction part of “historical fiction” really started to work. Yay! Doing a happy dance for you!What intrigues me the most is: “But we can only guess at the things that lie between and behind these things.” Can’t wait to read some of this!

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