Thoughts and opinions welcomed.

Susan Boulton

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I am at present 4/5ths done with the first draft of my latest effort. Unlike my other attempts I am using a real time and places as the backdrop for my story. Certain events did happen, certain places did and some still do exist. Other elements are totally fictional.

Out of this has come a problem that has been bothering me. My main character is an ex-army officer, who fought in WW1. I don't go into detail about his time during the war except for one incident, and this is told from his narrow, personal POV. (No grand descriptions of battles/causes and effects of etc) Most of the action takes place in 1922, but is linked in many ways to the war, and its lingering after effects on the British nation as a whole, and individually on my characters.

I have reached a part in the story where my character goes back to his regiment's barracks to find out some information. Now, what was the real county regiments' home during that time is a superb place, and it seems stupid to make up a regimental headquarters when I have this one sitting on my doorstep. I have used my local town etc so why not this place?

Well, you see I created a name for his regiment, rather than use one of the two real county regiments. I felt I did not wish to offend. However, now I have reached this point, and having visited the headquarters I want so to use it and to have my character reflect on the loss, pain etc as at the barracks there are two large memorials, one to each regiment. Also they had just been built about the time I have set my story in 1922.

It would add both context and depth to this part of my story to use this place in the manner I want too. But to do so with a good punch I have to alter the name of my character's regiment to one of the real ones.

Silly me is worrying that this, even in a work which is totally fictional, might cause a bit of offence. I just don't want to spend a good week or more writing out the two chapters only to ditch/re-write. It has taken me 12 months of hard work and research to get this far in my story, and with the end so close now I don't want to tear out the guts of it, or worse lose heart and abandon it over something like this. (That can wait for the editing stage ;) )
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Or why not use the description of a real place for an imaginary one? It happens all the time, and if people recognize the real place they're generally so pleased with themselves for having done so that they are very far from having any complaints.
 

dustinzgirl

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Well it kind of reminds me of Hemmingway...he used real places, real events, and fictional characters/names and I think even some fictional places (if memory serves).

"Well, you see I created a name for his regiment, rather than use one of the two real county regiments. I felt I did not wish to offend. However, now I have reached this point, and having visited the headquarters I want so to use it and to have my character reflect on the loss, pain etc as at the barracks there are two large memorials, one to each regiment. Also they had just been built about the time I have set my story in 1922."

I don't think it would be offensive to use historical regiments and places to show your story. It happens all the time in fiction and serves to substantiate the reality of the story, it gives a grounded premise. Of course that only works if you have done your research, and it sounds to me like you have.

I am not a huge history buff though, so I don't have much to say there.
 

Green

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If I were reading this story, I'd prefer you to use the real place. If I were a war buff, or someone who had real life experience of the place, I think it would add an extra layer of authenticity to your story.

Having said that, if there's anything in your novel that would cast a bad light on the place, best to stay clear and make it completely fictional.

The regiment is slightly different, I think. IMO you've made the correct decision to keep it fictional - I would imagine that each regiment has its own character, its own sense of self, something that you probably aren't going to be able to get down in words unless you experienced it yourself. So you'd probably have nothing to gain by using a real regiment.

I'm with dustinzgirl on this one - it sounds like you're doing your homework, so you should have nothing to worry about.
 

Peter Graham

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I think that you are right to be sensitive. The human cost of the war would make me uncomfortable in writing about a real regiment's battle dead, unless I'd actually served in it.

On a far less important note, you also run the risk of legions of pedants picking you up on trivial historical inaccuracies - for example, the fact that the regimental mascot was a dog called Auberon rather than a goat called Jeremy, or that they always wore white trousers at mess dinners on St Georges Day etc etc.

I see two possible options:-

1. The Thomas Hardy route. As you are no doubt aware, Hardy's trick was to set his books in Dorset but to change the names of the towns and features. So Dorchester becomes Casterbridge, Budleigh Salterton becomes Budmouth and so on. This enables him to describe places, buildings, flora and fauna in exact detail without having to invent a fantasy landscape and without upsetting anyone.


2. The George McDonald Fraser route. Fraser served in the Border Regiment during WW2 and then took a commission in the Gordon Highlanders. His experiences in the Gordons are set out and fictionalised somewhat in the excellent McAuslan stories. Throughout, he never once mentions the name of the regiment, although he does refer to other regiments by name. It's possible to work it out if you have some knowledge of the regimental structure, but otherwise you'd never actually know he was in the Gordons. Your character could do something similar.

Regards,

Peter
 

Susan Boulton

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Thanks for all the posts, much to think on still as how I approach this.

It is a knotty problem to say the least. I am leaning towards using the real Barracks, heck, even the Americans used it during WW2;) so placing a fictional Regment there isn't too big a problem. It is just a meeting place in the story, bothing more, no negative issues at all.

As to using a real or fictional regiment, this is a harder thing to decide. The two existing real Regiments had seventeen and eighteen battalions respectively during WW1 and lost between them over 10,000 men killed. Do I use one of these as my regiment, or use the idea of a third county regiment based on the Pals battlions that were raised. Towards the end of the war a lot of these were absorbed into existing Battalions when their losses made it impossible for them to retain their seperate identity.

Still, least I am at the writing stage now with this effort. I am doing about a 1000 words a day, which for me is motoring....

I know it does sound as if I am getting hung up on small details I might not even mention in great detail in the story, but I have found each nuggest of research adds depth and flavour to a story.
 

Leaf Face

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I am having a similar problem. I am writing a non-fantasy novel (usually I write fantasy) and in it I have real cities and made-up cities. I haven't decided how to make this work. Right now, I think I will keep the made up cities without names... But it isn't working too well in my head.

What I have decided is to go on with the story, see what happens. If I can finish it, then I think I will know what to do about the real/unreal places.

I guess my point is that, if you are on a roll with your writing, maybe you should keep going and worry about how it all works in later, in the editing process. I know for me it is hard to keep my nagging brain from stopping what I am doing, but it might work better that way so that I can keep up with my writing.
 

dustinzgirl

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Lots of historic fiction books about civil war, world war 1 and 2, korea, vietnam ect...were written about real places, real regiments, by people who had never actually been to war.

I just don't see how writing a fictional history with real places can be considered offensive to anyone.

Tom Keanelly wrote Schindler's Ark (Schindler's List) but as far as I know, he was never THERE.

TO that point, Steven Spielberg was never in any of the places he directed movies about.....but people love his movies anyways.
 

Frank menser

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I think Peter has it on his second example. I write some Historical pieces and in such a situation I would place my own created regiment against a backdrop of real places, regiments and events.

On a similar note, in my upcoming novel THE GUANO BANDIT, I have my protagonist getting a tooth pulled by Doc. Holliday just before the gunfighter leaves to face the Clantons at the OK corral.

I think people would be pleased to see their regiments mentioned and possibly officers and men as long as you did not falsify any serious action involving them or credit their exploits to someone else. Aside from that it is fiction and the reader should be aware of this.

~Frank
 

Susan Boulton

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Thanks again for all the comments.

I am at present going with a fictional Regiment and using the real barracks. It would make sense that a third country regiment would go through the main county barracks and that their records would be held there. It is also for the best I think as certain elements/actions taken by one of my characters did happen, and I don't doubt still do happen to some extent during war, I feel happier with the regiment being a fictional one.

This story might not even be read by a large number of people (though it is my hope that this novel, my fifth one, will be my break through one) I want to make sure that it is well known it is fictional with a large F, though a lot is based on conversations with members of my family that served, and research, it is just a story.
 

lin robinson

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I have read all of the books in series by two favorite authors of military historical fiction, George Frazer MacDonald's "Flashman" and Bernard Cornwell's "Sharpe". Rattling good tales, the both of 'em.

At the end of each book there are always some historical notes. Cornwell tends to be saying things like "The attack at the battle of Cadiz happened as describe, but there was no Leichester Irregulars among the regiments" or some such.
Frazer uses ELABORATE footnotes, mostly confirming the historical accuracy of some fairly unlikely or impressive events and personages. He is pretending the whole thing is a memoir so he will have footnotes on the order of, "Whereas no eyewitness history of the retreat mentions this remarkable event, I think we can trust Flashman's account as it is compatible with re-enactment of the fiasco and would help to explain several unanswered questions about the whereabout of Cardigan at the time."
Or even, "This telling contradicts the accepted versions by Lady Sale and other survivors, but I think we owe Flashman the benefit of the doubt since he has proven reliable in the past, even to his own discredit, and was a trained observer, not a camp follower."

Etc. What I'm saying is, you can write the story you want. If you feel it treads to closely to somebody's toes, you can disclaim it.
 
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