Sunday, May 19, 2013

Killing My Darlings--The Execution of Anne Boleyn

On May 19, 1536 at 9 a.m., Anne Boleyn was executed on the Tower Green by an expert swordsman imported from Calais in France.

The events leading up to this are complicated and far too numerous to go into here, but please check out the Anne Boleyn Files if you want to know more.  Today, I just want to talk about Anne.  And writing.
Miniature of Anne Boleyn, attributed to John Hoskins,
In the Collection of Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry 

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, talks about "killing your darlings".  This is the excision of characters/scenes/sentences/chapters that don't contribute to the forward motion of the story.  No matter how much you love them.  It's hard to kill your darlings.  That waiter who steals the single scene he's in, the lush description of a setting you never use, a chapter full of clever repartee that really has nothing to do with the plot.  But none of it is ever wasted.  If nothing else, you can blog about it later.

But what about actually killing off your beloved characters.  Or worse, knowing they are going to die?

I had a very difficult time writing TARNISH.  Especially the final few chapters.  Because--surprise surprise--Anne Boleyn chooses to pursue a relationship with King Henry rather than the man she loves.  Every single revision, I would get to those scenes and slow down. Stutter to a halt.  Rant and rail and rage.  And then make her do it anyway.  There's no getting around history.

You'd think I would have learned a lesson.  Unfortunately not.  My third book in the series covers the time period from 1533 through 1536, thus encompassing all of Anne's time as queen--and her execution.  The book is not about Anne.  She is not the narrator.  But still, every time I came to that fateful day in 1536, I slowed down.  Stuttered to a halt.  Ranted and railed and raged.

You see, over the course of writing TARNISH, I fell in love with Anne Boleyn.  With her cleverness and drive, her unique way of seeing the world and her desire to be part of changing it.  She was an amazing woman.  Truly, historically.  It's possible she was ambitious and manipulative.  It's possible that she could be ruthless.  But that doesn't mean I have to believe it or she wasn't an amazing person and a powerful influence on life in the 16th Century.

One of the reasons I love writing historical fiction is because I get to dive deep into the psychology and motivation of these incredible people.

And one of the reasons I struggle with it is because I already know the outcome.

For today, let's just say Rest in Peace, Anne.  You deserve it.

11 comments:

  1. What a great post. It must be tough knowing the tragic course of events a characters life will already be taking. Of course the journey to that point is fun to read about. I do always find it sad as a reader when I know the character is doomed to die regardless of how much I like them.

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    1. Thanks, Kristin! When I was a kid, one of my favorite books was Where the Red Fern Grows. I must have read it a dozen times, and every single time I hoped things would turn out differently. I think I'm always hoping the same for Anne!

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  2. Excellent post and a much needed reminder to eliminate all those much loved scenes/characters that don't move the story along. So looking forward to reading Tarnish!

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    1. Thanks, Pat! I needed reminding, myself, as I need to do some cutting with Book 3--it's incredibly difficult, but ultimately makes the story better.

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  3. I've always admired Anne Boleyn--for exactly the reasons you've said. I prefer my roses white, but always made an exception for her (and Elizabeth). She was remarkable. Yes, the biggest problem with historical fiction. Having your characters be foolish and self-destructive is painful when they are wholly fictional. But when their course is predetermined by time, not you, the author? Oh dear. I can't wait to read this, Katherine.

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    1. You're right, Huntley! I think all authors want their characters to be good people and do the right thing and always be happy, but it doesn't make for great fiction, does it? I don't know if it's harder to make them miserable ourselves or have history tell us they are, though!

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  4. So Book 3 is kind of a sequel to Tarnish? Sweet! Already can't wait! In the meantime, only 1 month til Tarnish!

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    1. More like a companion novel, Anonymous, but we do get to see what happens to Anne after she marries Henry!

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  5. Guilherme BorgesMay 20, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    Lovely post! I love how you're teasing us with little details about book 3 here and there. I'm so excited for it already and Tarnish isn't even out yet :)

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    1. The writing and editing process for Book 3 has been pretty intense, Guilherme, so it's like I've been living in it for the last few months. I can't seem to stop talking about it!

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  6. Oh, Anne. I can't wait for TARNISH to come out so everyone can meet her! I've killed a few characters in my writing, & it was hard, but at least I didn't have history forcing me to pull the trigger (or, you know, drop the blade).

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