actual historic figures I’ve used as characters
May 22, 2015
Just for fun, I was recently thinking about historical figures I’ve written about. (Not just mentioned or talked about — had to have lines of dialog.)
- Babylonian Emperor Darius (“The Book of Daniel”)
- Henry VIII, Arthur Tudor, Catherine of Aragon (“A Princess of Spain”)
- Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Jane Grey (“The Haunting of Princess Elizabeth”)
- Shakespeare (“Draw Thy Breath in Pain”)
- Edward Alleyn (Kitty Steals the Show)
- Emily Dickinson (“In Time”)
- Queen Victoria, Princess Alexandra, George V, Princess Victoria, Maud of Wales, Carl of Denmark (the whole damn family!) (All the Harry and Marlowe stories)
- H.G. Wells (Harry and Marlowe again)
- Rose O’Neill (“Goodness and Kindness”)
- Nanny of the Maroons (Steel), the freedom fighter and national hero of Jamaica
- Joseph Kittinger (who is still alive!) (“This is the Highest Step in the World”)
- Janis Joplin (“Just Another Word”)
I think there may be a few I’m missing. Like, all the pirates in Steel and probably a couple of walk-on characters in Discord’s Apple.
Some of these characters I’ve done a ton of research on. I’ve read multiple books about the Tudors. I did a ton of research on Janis Joplin for one single short story. Rose O’Neill, creator of the Kewpie doll, has an autobiography that I read. I took a whole seminar in grad school on Emily Dickinson and felt very confident writing about her — or rather my interpretation of her.
On the other hand, I did zero research on H.G. Wells and Darius, just using general knowledge and context to portray them, and mostly making them do what I needed for the story.
I probably worried the most about Janis Joplin — hence all the research — because she’s so iconic, it was important to at least try to portray her accurately. I definitely worried about using Kittinger as a character, because he’s still alive, and the story was so fantastical and symbolic I didn’t really make an effort to portray him as he really is. I wasn’t writing about him, really, but about the situation. Where I did do the research was in reading multiple accounts of his Excelsior jumps, so I could at least get the details right.
I have to admit though, having used Kittinger to inspire a character, I had a really good time a couple years ago watching him (via livestream) as capcom for Felix Baumgartner’s high-altitude jump that finally broke the record after 50 years. He had exactly the wry, calm, old-school test pilot demeanor I expected him to have.