Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Interesting Question

I believe one of the defining traits of a writer is an undying interest in the personal affairs of others. It’s not quite like being a gossip, which involves discussing other people indirectly, it’s more like being nosy to a person’s face. Writers want to know not only what you did but why you did it.

This isn’t the sole trait of a writer, of course; and there are plenty of people kindly and/or intensely interested in personal stories who aren’t writers. But I think that every “character-driven” story ever written had an author who was trying to figure out how a certain type of person would behave if confronted by a certain problem.

I think writers are interested in history for that reason. I remember being convinced that King Richard III of England was not a monster who murdered his brothers, his wife and his nephews because what was known of his personal life and the opinions of people who knew him well showed a person who could not possibly be that wicked. It was a murder mystery that started me researching Richard III – and thereby garnered an interest in medieval England. The book was Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. It also started a peculiar and private hobby of wishing for a time machine so I could go back and ask a question of a historical figure.

If you could wander back in time to just one place and ask just one question of someone, where would you go, and what would you ask?


Christine Thresh said...

My favorite mystery is by Josephine Tey -- The Franchise Affair.

I have no desire to go back in time.

Carol S said...

There would be so many interesting places to go if I had a time machine. First stop would be to visit with Ramses II to ask what really happened at the Battle of Kadesh.

Liz V. said...

I'd find out about Edgar Allan Poe's demise.

Ellen said...

Getting a conversation would be nice. Asking one question would be pretty useless unless you were guaranteed a truthful (and useful) answer.

If I went back in time and asked the Dutchman where his mine was, chances are it would stay the Lost Dutchman Mine. If I asked Ivan the Terrible why everybody used that nickname for him, he might demonstrate.