Creating Historical Characters

http://desktoppub.about.com/b/a/images/stickfigure.gifHow does a fiction writer create characters?  Well, we make them up.  I have a certain way of creating characters by playing “what if” with plot elements and character traits.  For example, what would it take to make a man lie when he’s honest to the core?  Or betray his friend when loyalty is his hallmark?

But here I am, working on characters for this novel that are people who really lived.  Now, granted, some of our historical figures are pretty fully drawn from chronicled sources, from the documents and letters they wrote and from the actions they took.  We know a bit about Paul Revere.  We know even more about Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  They’re already “living characters” that can be simply dropped into the actions of April 19th.  We have much of what they said and wrote about that day.

For example, we know that, when Paul Revere arrived at the Clarke House to warn Adams and Hancock, he was stopped in the front yard by Will Munroe who told him that the family had retired and to not make so much noise.  Revere replied “Noise? You’ll have noise enough before long.”

But how do we “create” characters like Ruth Harrington?  The only thing we know about her is that her husband died in her arms on her front steps.  Or what about Nathaniel Mulliken or Samuel Prescott?  We know enough to know these people were heroes.  But we don’t know what foods they liked, what silly habits they had.  We don’t know their fears, their passions.  And so, we have to make some universal assumptions.

My commitment in this project is to do my best to portray these people accurately, to do them honor.  They deserve that.

 

Paul Revere – Boston

8C Paul ReverePaul Revere.  It seems like everyone’s heard of Revere.  “Listen my children and you shall hear, of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.”  That’s from a poem by Longfellow about Paul’s infamous ride.

Unfortunately, it’s isn’t terribly accurate.  But neither, really, is what we learned in school.  Basically, what I learned in school was that Paul Revere rode through the countryside yelling “The British are coming, the British are coming.”  Some folk showed up in a place called Lexington Green.  A shot was heard around the world.  And the Revolutionary War started.  That’s pretty much it.

It wasn’t until a little over a year ago, when I was at an Appleseed shoot that I began to hear more.

Like Paul Revere didn’t shout “The British are coming.”  That would have been silly, since they all considered themselves British citizens.  If he yelled, he likely yelled “The Regulars are out.”  The Regulars were the Redcoats.  When they did marches through the Massachusetts countryside, it was quite unusual for them to be out after dark.  And this march was begun after ten at night.

Another thing I heard for the first time was that Revere didn’t make it to his target audience.  Sure he made it to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams who were staying there at the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s home.  After all there was a serious price on the heads of those two men.  Warning them was essential.  Warning Lexington was essential.  But Revere’s target was Concord, another five miles east of Lexington.  This was where the Redcoat Army was headed to confiscate their arms and ammunition.

Revere didn’t make it to Concord.  He was captured on his way there by a Redcoat patrol.  He was later released but his mission was not completed.  At least not by him.

Ten points if you know who completed that mission.