Writing about ancient Japan

After a week of plotting and research, I’ve begun writing my samurai novella.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:  is a week really enough time to plot and reasearch a novel about a time period and culture I’m far from an expert on?

No.  Absolutely not. 

But I was starting to get bored.  And the biggest threat to any story, at this stage, is to find it dull before you’ve even begun writing.  The problem is, what keeps me interested in a story is the dramatic tension between the two love interests.  And in a story where there are few obstacles to the characters, apart from psychological/emotional obstacles, that tension doesn’t really manifest itself well in an outline.

What keeps Senpatji (the older samurai) from immediately falling into Shinosuke’s arms is guilt.  He killed Shinosuke’s father (though there was a good reason for it, at the time).  Shinosuke knows that Senpatji and his father were friends, but he knows little else.  So he sees this handsome older man, who is willing to teach him the ways of the samurai (bushido — the way of the warrior) and who dotes on him, and it’s not surprising that he falls for Senpatji. 

If I had Senpatji simply accept this, it would be a dull, dull story.  So, I have to make him constantly aware of what he’s done, and constantly keeping Shinosuke at arms length, despite his growing affection for the young man.  And the only way I can pull this off, is to write it out dramatically.

Which means that I keep stumbling over matters of history and protocol.  What did falconers do with the birds when it started raining?  Did they cover them up?  Or were the birds considered tough enough to endure a little inclement weather?  How does one greet someone of a higher social class, when they enter your house?  How does the fact that Shinosuke’s mother was once samurai herself affect the way she relates to her samurai guests?  Does Senpatji and his friend acknowledge that she was once samurai, or is that too tacky?  (I’m leaning towards tacky, but Senpatji is introduced as an old friend of her husband’s.)

All these questions will have to be answered, and will possibly force sections to be rewritten.  But it’s my opinion that the primary thing is to get the story down on paper.  Once you have a first draft, you can rewrite to your heart’s content.  But that first draft must be done, or nothing else will follow.

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Filed under Japanese, Romance, Writing

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