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It started with pointy hats

It is no secret that when I started out writing "The Herbalist's Apprentice," it was a novelette for the Jim Hines/Cats Curious Press fairy tale retelling project.

A novelette is an easier project to start than a novel. It can handle more whimsy in its start-up choices. To whit, the setting of my book--1489 pseudo-Romania--was largely predicated on the fact that my cousin had married a Romanian woman and I wanted to know more about her heritage, and.... in that time period, my princesses could wear pointy hats.

Because, of course, the fairy tale I'd chosen to rewrite was "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," something I'd meant to rewrite all my life. Or maybe just a huge chunk of it. Seriously, after reading Robin McKinley's Beauty, I went through my Reader's Digest The World's Best Fairy Tales




and put check marks and dots in the table of contents to indicate to myself which one of the stories I wanted to rewrite as fairy tales, some day. I was probably 12. Ish.

Anyway, it so happened that there is a robust Romanian version of "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," so that sealed it. Romania. Dancing princesses. And when? Well, when princesses had pointy hats, because the illustration inside of the Reader's Digest The World's Best Fairy Tales showed princesses in pointy hats and I'd freaking imprinted on them.

The only problem with Romania during the pointy hat era is that it's full of Dracula and his drama. That dude was not amenable to my light-hearted romp through pointy-princess-hatland. So I ended up setting the book about ten years after he died--the very edge of the pointy-princess-hat era. I figured: well, Romania was the edge of the Christian world at that point, so maybe fashions don't quite trickle over so quickly to even the nobility. It's not like the courts of the time were glittering palaces of delicate court intrigue. No, the courts of the time were defensive fortresses of brutal political intrigue. Totally different atmospheres. Not so fashion-forward.

The latter stage of pointy hatness involves the butterfly hennin. I really didn't want to go pre-Dracula (for whatever misty reason that escapes me at the time--maybe because I liked the political situation of post-Dracula too much; maybe for a GIANT SPOILER FOR BOOKS NOT YET WRITTEN. *shrug* I mean, I know why it's gotta be then NOW, but did I know why then?), when pointy hats were SO pointy they were called steeple hennins. (Hennin being the name for this hat-veil combo that pointy hats are really all about.) There are steeple hennins, heart hennins, flowerpot hennins, and butterfly hennins. And probably some other ones I never figured out.

Anyway, here's the butterfly hennin, complete with relatively pointy hat:



So, my go-to book of that time, The Evolution of Fashion, placed butterfly hennins with the sort of sleek, low-slung, belt over the hips, off-the shoulder, medieval dress that you see in about half the movies about the Middle Ages. So I wrote those into my story. One of my early critiquers is in SCA, and she pointed out that the dresses that accompany butterfly hennins are different--there's an overdress/underdress situation, and they're cinched tight, high on the waist. The opposite of the low-slung belt over the hips.

I put that out of my mind for a long time, because well, hey, The Evolution of Fashion said otherwise, I had bigger problems to fix in my book, and I figured, even if the book was wrong, you could argue that the butterfly hennin was still popular but the new mode of dress had made it to Romania. Or something. It's not like there was no trade and no fashion amongst the nobility. Also, the edges of fashion trends are mutable; and the dress and the hat do not always progress forward in lockstep in all locations.

But you know what? That's too hard to justify. It's impossible to justify within the text, because none of my characters have any idea what's fashion forward in Burgundy at the time, so wouldn't even know how to explain why they're wearing a dress out of step with their hat.

So I went and did the research, compiling photo references of butterfly hennins on the web. And wouldn't you know, every single contemporaneous image is of the kind of dress my critiquer in the SCA drew me a picture of in the margin of my manuscript. Of course. Because all the images are compiled by SCA women.

But that's the point. Even if I could justify the mixing of styles a little--the edge of an era, and all that--I'd be throwing every one of my SCA butterfly hennin-knowledgeable readers out of the story as they argued to themselves about the thing. And that's not worth it. Not when I can't explain it in the text, not when I can't find a single photo reference for justifying The Evolution of Fashion's line drawing of their approximation of the style.

So, all that, and now I have to go change every single princess dress in the story.

*sigh*

Comments

( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
You'd also be throwing every medievalist out of the story, too. So I, personally, am grateful. (Does this mean I shouldn't read the one you gave me at Penguicon?)
merriehaskell
May. 17th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
Well, they don't talk about dresses 24/7 or anything, but it's in there. If you know it's correct in the next draft, would it bother you too much?

txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:26 pm (UTC)
No, I'd be able to restrain the Must Fix This Now urge. (I'm a teacher, I can't help it.)
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
It's fine, as long as you accept that when we get emails from medievalists (and gun nuts, and horse crazies, and amateur astronomers) we roll our eyes and say, "Yeah, I'd like to see you write a novel." *g*

Which doesn't excuse the author from getting it right, of course. But it'd be nice if Fixated People realized that every single aspect of a work of fiction has Fixated People staring at it in incredulous horror, and it's humanly impossible to get every detail correct. Especially when you are talking about something controversial.

I especially like the emails from people who want to bitch me out about something they're wrong about.
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:46 pm (UTC)
I'm not talking about a finished work, I'm talking about a draft given me by the author.
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
Oh, I know that, and crit in that case is encouraged.

I'm sorry.

I was speaking in more general terms about the urge to Fix It Now, and did not make myself clear, because of that tendency I have to leave out the transitions. :-\
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
And I'm tired and sick and worried, and I failed to remember that this is one of your buttons. I didn't mean to push it. In short, <3.
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
*g* I'm not feeling particularly button-pushed right now. I'm just trying to reassure Merrie that it's okay to get stuff wrong sometimes.
merriehaskell
May. 17th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC)
Noting it would be great--it would be nice to have someone double-check all the dress references for/with me, because I'm sometimes appalled at the details that slip away.
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
I'll do it as soon as I'm not stupid-with-headcold. :-/
merriehaskell
May. 17th, 2010 05:34 pm (UTC)
I appreciate it!
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Also? I am ALL ABOUT the pointy hats. I suspect they influenced my choice of career, not that I'd ever say that out loud.
merriehaskell
May. 17th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Heh. Admitting it to my editor was a bit daunting, actually, but she seemed to get it. :)
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
It's okay. You'll probably get the embroidery wrong instead. Something will always arise to thwart us. :-(
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
*waves madly* Hel-LO, embroidery geek over here? If I don't know myself, I know somebody who does.
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
See previous comment. *g*

Besides, try to get two geeks to agree.
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
Just realized that I should clarify. My point is not that one should not sweat the details, because details are what make a story pop.

But rather that at a certain point the artist just has to relax and accept that the point is good art, not a treatise on hemming techniques in the 15th century.

Because worrying about this stuff, frankly, can be paralytic. At a certain point, if you think about it too much, you lose the forest for the trees, and the narrative for the buttonholes. Assuming buttons have even been invented yet. Maybe they're still using points. I guess I need some primary sources....
txanne
May. 17th, 2010 02:49 pm (UTC)
Yes, they had buttons, mostly made of cloth wrapped with thread. And again, I get your point, but sometimes there are things that authors don't even try to get right, and that's what I can't forgive. I'm okay with saying, "Well, otherwise they wouldn't have a story." But when I get the feeling that they didn't even bother googling, no, I can't get past it. There is no art without craft.
matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 02:55 pm (UTC)
And my point is, you can't physically Google every single detail in a novel-length work.

Actually, I take that back. You can. I did it for The Stratford Man, except it was more library research, because Google is largely useless.

And there's still stuff I had to make up, after spending (in some cases) weeks looking for a detail. AND there is stuff I got wrong anyway. And if I hadn't been willing to accept that, I never could have told the story.

(I knew they had buttons. I was making a rhetorical point. *g*)

Also, the thing that always gets you is not what you know you don't know--because you can look that up. It's the common wisdom that Everybody Knows. And which happens to be wrong...

My point is that yes, Merrie should fix the things she knows are awkward, and which she is justifying to herself one way or another. But also that it's okay to get stuff wrong, because one does, and it's more important to avoid Information Lock than fix every detail.
merriehaskell
May. 17th, 2010 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'm taking note...

Though between my deadline and my editor's requirements, I don't think I'm going to have time to get into Information Lock. :)

matociquala
May. 17th, 2010 05:06 pm (UTC)
*\o/*

(I had my OMG EVERYBODY IS LOOKING freakout on UNDERTOW and then again on CHILL. So yanno. If it starts to happen, just know it's normal and can be worked through and we don't mind listening. *g*)
tafkarfanfic
May. 17th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
Well - changing the princess dresses is a PITA, but it's less so than, say, if you found that your entire plot needed to be pulled out and fixed. So there's that...
pmw27
Feb. 13th, 2014 03:20 pm (UTC)
Butterfly hennin image
Hi-- Do you know where you found the image of the ladies with the butterfly hennins/pointy hats?
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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