Invoking the Muse

This week the Debs are talking about how they torture their characters, make choices for them, or how their characters lead the way. 

One of the most wonderful things about writing is how the mind seems to unravel the story from a place hidden deep inside. I can’t tell you how many times I have stopped writing after a few hours and sat back to re-read the words and thought, “Huh. I had no idea that was going to happen.”  New characters have been born, others brutally killed, others thwarted or rewarded.

As a historical fiction author, I have to be a plotter. I have several timelines that I work from: one that looks at the events of history during the time frame that I’m writing, one that covers the timeline of each character, and a timeline that shows me exactly what happens from chapter to chapter. While I write fiction, I do want to stay as close as I can to the known facts of the periods in which I write. I consider many historical facts to be set in stone and somewhat immovable. But all the stuff in between? That’s completely fair game.

One of the most powerful moments in FEAST OF SORROW when the characters ran the show is a major scene with Popilla, the mother of my protagonist, Apicius, the famous ancient Roman gourmand. I’m not going to give you any spoilers on this, but know that it’s an intense chapter, one with high emotions for all the characters in the book, and one that I absolutely did not expect to write. It wasn’t on my chapter timeline and it wasn’t something I had ever imagined happening in any way at any point of my plotting. Popilla is an entirely fictional character, one without any real restrictions on what she could say or do, and boy, did my mind run wild with her. After I wrote that scene I recall being truly stunned. Writing the chapter in that way meant that I had changed a massive plotline for the book. I had no idea I was going to take the direction with the characters that I did. It made me think very seriously about the idea of a Muse, one that inspires and infuses the artist with ideas, and in this case, the Muse definitely guided my fingers across the keyboard.

The Nine Muses
The Nine Muses

I can understand why the ancients used to purposely invoke the Muse when they wrote, asking them for divine guidance. Homer, Virgil and Ovid all open their poems with an invocation asking them to help them tell their tale. That tradition was carried through the ages to Dante, Milton and Shakespeare. Who wouldn’t want the Muse to strike? It’s an amazing feeling, when the “muse” takes over and the story unfolds, seemingly on its own. I wish that it would happen every time I sit down but alas, some days it’s more of a slog than a slide through the words.

Maybe I should try to invoke the Muse…my Muse, the whirl of history, imagination, power and language. Here’s Dante’s invocation. Perhaps next time, I’ll whisper a few of these words and light a candle for my inconsistent muse.

“O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!”


Author: Crystal King

Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.