(The usual Words Crush Wednesday post is cancelled this week, because it’s the first Wednesday of the month, so it’s time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I’ll be back to quoting the Iliad next week. Or maybe I’ll switch it up and move to someone more recent, like Sophocles or Euripides.)
I’m learning up close and personal just why you need to do all your research before you do any of your writing. Not that the research I’m doing now was ever intended to apply to the writing it’s now making me realize was all wrong, mind you.
The research is actually for my Master’s Thesis. (And for general interest reading.) But one of the things in the book I’m currently reading talked about the way age was understood in ancient Greece, and also mentioned the fact that puberty didn’t hit (men) until they were about eighteen.
You might think that this isn’t too much of a problem, just remove mentions of ages in the re-writes, right? Wrong.
For one thing, in Ilios, my Trojan War novel, I had Achilles fathering Neoptolemos at fifteen. Now it turns out he’d have been physically incapable of that at that age. (In my defense, I’ve read all over the place that he was well under eighteen at the time. I should check Statius, one of the few full accounts (even if it is Roman), and see what that says, but I suspect there he’s eighteen, if it says.) This comes up a lot in the quasi-Young Adult novels that more-or-less follow Ilios as sequels. (Helen’s motivations are different, but otherwise, pretty much everything’s the same.) Making Achilles a few years older isn’t a big deal, though. And reducing the age gap between Achilles and Patroclos will definitely make their intimacy less likely hit any “ick” buttons in any potential readers.
The problem comes in with trying to describe the characters in the quasi-YA novels. I felt awkward enough having them be a little unsure of their exact ages (of the three leads, two were born in slavery, and the third was born in the Greek camp at Troy, so none are 100% sure of their exact age) but now I realize (as I really should have all along, if I’d put any thought into it) that no one would have known their exact age anyway. Calendars didn’t exist yet, so birthdays as we know them didn’t exist, et cetera. So my heroines actually have a much better age marker than most people in the world likely would–they can tell people “we were born a few months after Troy fell”–but if anyone ever reads these books (doubtful) that’s going to feel very weird, for one thing, and for another thing it’s going to leave me helpless to describe relative ages. I mean, yes, my heroines can look at other people and guesstimate that they’re a few years older or younger, but…well, I guess that’s all they’ve been doing anyway, but…ugh. I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore.
Though, really, the big problem is with a couple of the other female characters. There’s a flashback from the POV of the hero’s Egyptian princess forbidden-love-interest, looking back to when they first met, when she was fourteen, and he had just rescued her from bandits who had kidnapped her, blah blah blah, you can see where this is going, and he refrained from taking advantage of her (despite that she offered herself to him) because she was too young and he’s a heroic character. In addition to the fact that fourteen is not too young in the ancient world (which, let’s face it, I knew already), that scene was probably not going to fly in something even quasi-Young Adult anyway, but I’m not sure what to replace it with. (Also, if she’s fourteen, Ramses would have already made good on his promise to her father to marry her, I’d think, wouldn’t he? Hmm, need to research that before I get to re-writing that one.) Then there’s the other girl, in the very last book–actually, the sequel, the one I’m currently writing–the northern barbarian, who follows them home from the Alps, ’cause she’s fallen in love with Molossos, the eldest son of Neoptolemos. (How mortifying for the heroine, Achilles’ youngest daughter, that she has a nephew almost exactly her age!) This Alpine girl is probably about sixteen or seventeen, so probably she should already be married, shouldn’t she? Given that this is the Late Bronze Age and all. Maybe she was widowed in all the fighting at the end of the main series.
Actually, I think I really am more worried about Ilios than the quasi-YA novels. Because now, instead of a fifteen year old Achilles in drag on Scyros, I have an eighteen year old Achilles convincingly fooling Lycomedes and everyone else around him. I guess that’s not a big difference, really. It just feels like one, somehow. The question is, does he spend longer on Scyros than I originally planned, or does he spend longer with Cheiron before his mother takes him to Scyros, or do I just not clarify the number of years?
This might not worry me so much if I was able to write right now. But somehow I just can’t.
Maybe it’s just the heat. Or my medication. Or…meh, I don’t know. I go in phases, I guess. Inspiration will strike, and then I’ll be able to write again. (Maybe I should have signed up for July Camp NaNo after all, try to force myself into it?)