Have you ever read an intense and emotionally gripping book that left you questioning if any of it was based on real life? Or have you ever wondered what made the author’s mind create such a drama? I used to be one of those people who read a book and ignored any of the “extras” unless maybe it was a summary of another book that I might like to look into. In the last few years I have discovered an incredible value in reading the author’s notes. Sometimes it’s just acknowledgements (which I admit I just skim through myself), but there are also valuable insights that can be shared that can help you see the book in a whole new light. Writing this I mostly think of historical fiction pieces and discovering which events really happened, but I’ve also gleaned some valuable insights from modern novels as well.
Often a lot of research goes into the development of historical fiction stories. Most commonly I see the authors state that while the main characters are entirely fiction, other characters and events really happened. They will share what they came across in their research and how they worked to piece it all together to form their story. I personally appreciate the time the authors take to share this information.
As I’ve stated in previous posts, I am a realist when it comes to what I read, so knowing that something really happened or not can effect how deeply I am emotionally connected. I don’t know if I can explain this as well as I’d like, but I will try. First of all, I fully admit that I am someone who gets very connected emotionally to what I read. It’s not surprising in the least for me to laugh, cry, shout-out-loud, gasp, etc when reading a book. I used to get laughed at (in good fun) at my last job because I was able to listen to audiobooks while I worked and would either react out-loud or start tearing up without warning or being able to control it. For me when I read a story I connect on a deep level with the characters to the point that I feel like I am right in the middle of it as if in a dream. If I know certain events actually happened, I have a harder time separating myself from it because even though it may not have happened to the character of the story, it could have happened to someone else. If the events didn’t happen at all then I still feel connected to the character, but can (or try to) tell myself “It’s ok, it didn’t really happen.”
Especially for Christian novels, it’s popular to see authors write stories that are really an allegory for a bigger picture. It’s common enough that I try to see if I can figure out if there is one as I’m reading. One book that sticks out in my mind as I write this is actually Covenant Child by Terri Blackstock. I read it about a decade ago. I remember really getting into the book but it wasn’t even on my radar to think of “the bigger picture.” I saw the struggles the two sisters had growing up, and was joyful when they were able to reunite with their stepmom, but I never connected the girls’ reactions to her as an allegory to how we react to Christ. When I read the author’s note at the end it completely changed my view on the whole story. Have you ever seen a show or movie where someone has amnesia and can’t remember who they are or what they’ve been through, and then all of a sudden it clicks and all of these visuals pop into their head until it all connects? That’s pretty much how I felt after reading the author’s note for the book. Ever since then it’s changed how I try to process what I’m reading.
When I was younger I wanted to be an author myself. I was eleven when I wrote my first novel. To age myself it was before the age when everyone had a computer at home so I wrote it on loose-leaf paper complete with white-out and scribbles. It’s been several years since I’ve tried writing anything myself, but I will just say that I understand the emotional connection that authors themselves have with the characters and events in their novels. If you think it can be emotional reading a book, try being the one writing it! It can be a very emotional journey for both parties.
For the author reading this I hope that you can see that the author’s notes are appreciated. For the readers I hope you are able to find the value and connection that those notes can provide. A lot goes into writing a story whether it be fiction, non-fiction, or a mixture of both. It’s always good to know as much of the big picture as possible.