Writing historical fiction is much like weaving a tapestry. We choose our stories and gather our materials—in other words: Research!
- The WHO—the writer chooses the story.
- the WHAT—he reads it from every perspective and angle he can.
- The WHY, HOW, and WHEN—she searches for inconsistencies and unknowns among reports of events, reads works of scholars and theologians, checks the “__ologies” of time, place, culture, land, weather, remains, science…
- Finally, it’s time for art. With the shape and color scheme in his head, the writer can finally begin to weave the words together.
The first step is to warp the loom or to add the vertical threads that set the scene, size, and basics of the tapestry. Because it provides the structure, the warp needs to be accurate and consistent or the final product is flawed.
In the same way, writers begin with the facts of event as the basic, unalterable structure of the story. The WHO and WHAT.
Time for the weaver to bring on the color and texture, set the mood, and bring the story she’s telling to life. She weaves horizontal threads (the weft) through the warp using a variety of techniques and styles. The story is communicated through pictures.
An author weaves the WHY, HOW, and WHEN into word pictures to bring readers into the story so they can participate vicariously. The learning is by osmosis.
Below is an visual example of weaving historical fiction about Ruth and Naomi. This example is found in the Bible in Ruth 1 and in Less Than a Widow on pages 150-151.
THE KEY: Bible story (warp) | historical research | fiction | combination of all
Full waterskins are really heavy. Ruth is glad the donkey will be carrying
them. Tents are being packed up in the caravan’s camp just outside the
city gates as Naomi waves with one hand and keeps a firm hold on the donkey’s
rope with the other. He’s not looking forward to this journey any more
than the women are.
Ruth hesitates to rush Orpah’s good-byes, but gently touches her arm.
“We have to go.”
Orpah’s mother hugs her and won’t let go until her sisters gently untangle
their arms. Sabeen hangs a bag on Orpah’s shoulder and gives her a gentle
push. Orpah’s face is streaming with tears as she catches up with Ruth.
“Fresh figs.” Her attempt at a smile wavers as she pulls one out of the
bag and hands it to Ruth. “Eat this. We can’t start our journey on an empty
Ruth heads right for the donkey and adds the waterskins to his pack, careful
to balance them evenly. Naomi talks quietly to Orpah, and Ruth hears only
the last part.
“…stay here with your family.”
“I can’t…I love you.”
“And I love you. That’s why I want you to stay in Moab.”
Naomi almost shouts as she interrupts Orpah. “Is dead! Both my sons and
my husband are dead. We are nothing—women without power or protection—
how can I love you and want that kind of a life for you?”
Naomi calms herself with a deep breath and touches Orpah’s cheeks with
her worn hand. “Look at me. I’m too old for any man to want me. I won’t bear
another son, and even if I did, you’d be too old for childbearing by the time he
grew up. I have nothing to give you.”
“But it wouldn’t be right to leave you.”
“Orpah, dear darling Orpah, you have a future here in Moab—your family
is here. There is nothing for you in Bethlehem. Yahweh has emptied my life
of all that is good. Stay here, marry again, have babies, be happy. Do this for
me, because I love you.”
Orpah looks back toward the city gates where her mother and sisters are
still waving good-bye. The war inside between loyalty to Naomi and common
sense are tearing her apart.
Ruth put her arms around Orpah and whispers in her ear. “Don’t worry
about Naomi. I’ll look after her.”
“No, Ruth! What’s true for Orpah is true for you, too.” Naomi’s voice is
hard and angry again.
“I’m sorry, Mother, but it’s not. Orpah’s home is here with her family, her
people, her gods. My heart left Moab a long time ago, and now my body will
follow it. Your people are my people; your God is my God. I swear in Yahweh’s
name that where you die, I will die, and that’s where I will be buried.”
The caravan leader bellows at the women, “You didn’t pay enough for us
to wait for you!”
Ruth waves at him. “We’re coming!”
Naomi points to the crying women at the city gates. “Your mother and sisters
are waiting for you, Orpah, my child.”
The three of us hug one last time, hating to say goodbye. Naomi pulls away
first. “Go on, dear one. Be happy.”
Orpah takes the bag of figs from her shoulder and hangs it on Ruth’s. She
kisses her on both cheeks, then kisses Naomi. Her first few steps toward her
family are tentative, but soon she’s running, and they move to surround her.
Naomi grabs my arm—hard. “Ruth…”
“I can be just as stubborn as she is,” Ruth thinks and draws her thumb
across her throat as if cutting it with a knife. “May Yahweh do this to me if I
break my vow.”
Naomi tries to glare at Ruth, but relief shows in her eyes. The caravan
starts to move. Ruth puts her arm around her mother-in-law’s shoulders, pulls
on the donkey’s lead, and follows.
“Shall we go, Mother?”
Pictures used with permission from patriciacantosdesign.com.
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