My journey through the world of writing and everything that lies in between…

Historical fiction can be incredibly hard to write and master, as I’ve recently discovered. You may have an idea or storyline and then realize that historically, it’s not accurate.

I discovered this last night.

No, it wasn’t at my critique session–that went remarkably well actually–but it was after I came home and decided to do a little research reading. I picked up my copy of Confessions of a Yakuza, a memoir of sorts about a yakuza boss pre-WWII. This has been the only book thus far that’s given me any idea of what the yakuza were like before the movie stereotype of loan sharking, drug lords in modern Japan. Pre WWII, they were mainly (if not solely) focused on gambling as their main way of operating (there were two types of yakuza, the bakuto, who were the gamblers, and the tekiya, who did more peddling/scamming type things).

I realized reading further into the book that it would be highly unlikely, if not impossible, for my MC’s American mother to have EVER crossed paths with a yakuza member.

Initially, I thought that they would meet because of the “front business” (which would have been real estate). But reading further into the book, I discovered that these gangs had only the pretense of a front business (the gang in Confessions used theater props in their store fronts as they were pretending to be a business of making these props) but wouldn’t have actually been involved in that market.

I also highly doubt my MC’s American grandfather would have been allowed at said establishment.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t consider all of this before. I suppose I got caught up in the modern image of the yakuza before I did my research (major bluff on my part). But now I need to come up with a slightly different plot line.

There are a few different ways I can approach it:

  1. Kaiyo’s father is no longer a yakuza boss but someone high up in politics. He would be close to the foreign minister Ōkuma Shigenobu, who was nearly assassinated in 1889 because of his position with the unequal treaty revision plan (basically, he was a foreign/Western supporter and the Genyosha, an ultranationalist terrorist group, used members of organized crime to terrorize foreigners and liberal politicians). If her father is among this group, they could use Kaiyo as leverage against him to sway his power and position towards their more ultranationalist leanings. I would also use an actual historical figure, Toyama Mitsuru, who was a leader of this terrorist group, as a major character (or at least the power behind the other antagonist). The yakuza would still be involved, though her father would not be part of this.
  2. Kaiyo would not be half American and half Japanese. This would be a major change as part of the story is her struggling to find her identity. However, if I were to change this, her father could still be a yakuza boss and her mother could’ve been someone involved with him. Kaiyo, however, would have never known her and perhaps she is raised by a Western missionary couple instead. The conflict would then be that though she is full blood Japanese, she acts more Western and hardly knows her culture because of how she was raised. This would be an interesting storyline (and would be fairly similar to the whole “fish out of water” storyline I currently have going, only that she would be fully Japanese, but only in looks) 

So I have some decisions to make. I won’t have to start over or anything, but I would have to change a few plot angles to make it flow better. I’ll still be able to write the ending this weekend like I planned on doing–it hasn’t changed that at all.

Ah, such is the life of a historical fiction novel: always changing and evolving especially when research suggests another path to take.

Anyway, if you’ve been patient enough to read this, which story angle–#1 or #2–sounds better or more appealing/plausible?

Comments on: "The Pitfalls of Historical Fiction" (9)

  1. Dara,

    I’m having trouble choosing because both sound very interesting to me.

    Maybe you could combine some of the elements. MC could be adopted by the missionary couple. She develops a natural curiosity to discover who her birth parents were. After she finds them, the terrorist group finds out about *her* and uses her as leverage against her high ranking father.

    So, you’d have all the emotional conflicts plus the danger to her.

  2. Hmm, I never thought about that. It could work.

    Part of my novel had her sent away in the beginning and she could discover her past there. I’m still trying to decide if she should be mixed or not though.

  3. I tried doing historical fiction because I love reading it but changed my story to YA at the suggestion of a creative writing teacher. I admire anyone who has the patience to do as much research as you have.

    I like the second option. I still think you can have huge identity issues if you look like one culture and are raised in another.

    Good luck with finishing the ending this weekend.

  4. Hi Dara
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  5. I like the second, but as the first commenter said, maybe a mix of both?

    hope your writing goes well today!!! 🙂

  6. Hmm…I’m not really sure which sounds better, both seem feasible as far as I can tell (which, admittedly, isn’t very far…hehe).

    If I had to pick, though, I might lean a little more towards option #1. Why? Well, I don’t really know. Honestly, both seem to work, and it’s a tough call to make. But I think that, for me, once I get the image of the characters in my head, it’s hard for me to change them…and the more significant the character, the harder the changes are for me to transition through. So since option #1 involves less change of your MC, maybe that’s why I’m leaning towards it. Like I said before, though, both are good ways to go I think.

    And also…this is why I could never write historical fiction. 😛

  7. Wow, best of luck with working out how to change it! I think I’d find that incredibly frustrating to work that out. I like the idea of the politician, as I often think they’re quite like corrupt gangsters 😉

  8. Very true. I’m leaning more toward the politician thing, as I found some info today that proved very useful.

  9. OK.. don’t know if it is too late to jump in.. but I vote for #2. I think that this scenario creates a better ability for emotional conflict. The culture shock would be enormous, I assume.

    I must also say… hats off to you for writing historical fiction. The research must be intense.. and I don’t know that I have the self-discipline for something like that. I love to read and learn new things.. and there is every possibility that I would forever research a project, and never quite get to the WRITING of the project. LOL.

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