Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is This Plausible?

Once upon a time, there was an evil scientist. 

One year, sometime in the mid-1980s, in New York City, there were twin girls born, despite the fact that the girls were in fact eight months apart in age. Anyhow, the twins were plump, healthy and identical. Then the evil scientist 
separated the twins and made them different races and added them to separate families in neighboring boroughs of New York City, never to know that they were, in fact, really sisters. 

This is the origin story that my childhood best friend came up with to explain our friendship. Snowflake (not, in fact, her real name) was always super good at coming up with elaborate backstories for the characters she created for stories or even when we just played Barbies. 

She can tell you more about some of the wacky backstories and backgrounds she came up with for her characters, should she choose to drop a comment here. Most of them were soap opera worthy, I swear. 

In a sci-fi/ fantasy setting, that sort of origin story could absolutely make sense, depending on the parameters. 

My WIP is not sci-fi or fantasy, but historical fiction, which demands a certain level of realism. When I first conceived of the Keegan girls, sisters eight months apart in age but who are different races, they were born out of my sense that historical romance did not have enough diversity. Even in olden times, different races and cultures mixed with each other to trade, to fight, to marry. In Global history, we were forced to call this "cultural diffusion."



The fact of them being sisters is obviously a nod to the friendship between Snowflake and I. At first, I stuck strictly to our own backgrounds, making Mady's mother black and Alex's mother Japanese. I decided early on that their father would be a sailor and that he would either be Irish or English, knowing that I wanted this family to eventually drop into the British Regency historical period. 

But due to historical considerations--such as Japan still being a closed-off country at the time--as well as travel logistics of the 1790s, Alex and Mady got a more simplified version. Alexandra is half English (through Miles) and the other half is an uncertain amalgam of rumored English, Irish, French or Native American. Mady remains half English and half black. 

The racial mixing is entirely plausible and it did happen often. That's not what I'm asking about. 

In writing the first draft, I had begun with the idea that Miles is entirely straightforward with his daughters about the having different mothers thing. 

But then as I was writing the back half of the story during NaNo, I wondered how much having different mothers and the importance of being legitimate vs. not would affect these five-year-old girls in 1800. How much of that kind of thing would five year olds understand? So then it turned out that Alex and Mady have always been told that Mama (Mady's biological mother) is both of their Mama--or maybe not told that, but it's implied, as she's the woman who raised them until her death. 

So how plausible does that seem, that five year old girls wouldn't have figured out already that they can't possibly have the same set of parents? Others they come into contact with either know that or suspect or see right through the girls' assertion that they have the same father and mother. 

I'm rationalizing this development in a few ways:

  • They're five. They still believe everything their parents tell them. 
  • Mixed race people come out in all sorts of ways and it's not impossible that mixed siblings come out looking completely different. 
  • Their mother never even hinted that one of them wasn't hers. 
  • The reason why they have different mothers is obviously due to themes of an adult nature. Not something even an adolescent young woman would be told about in any detail in those days, never mind a young child. 
  • It creates conflict. 
  • It gives Miles a secretive burden through the story. 


So does this seem plausible, that they don't know that they have different mothers, don't even really suspect it themselves, but that it's only when they're in England among white English people who tell the girls "You can't possibly have the same mothers!" that the girls begin to question their father? What say you? 

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