The Journey: A Herald Story Blog (2)

Previous parts: Part 1

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Hello, it’s me again, Roy van der Schilden, writer and narrative designer for Herald. In the previous blog I explained how I got stuck writing the narrative for Herald. When this happened, I knew that I needed more inspiration to be able to continue. After talking with family and friends about the topic of colonialism, I figured that as a Dutchman, I might have always had a somewhat limited view of the subject to begin with. The Netherlands has a long history of empire building and colonization, so perhaps the narrative told here is a bit one-sided.

As much as I love reading historical novels, the popular material I’ve read is all written from a western perspective. For example, one of my major inspirations is Max Havelaar by Multatuli, but this is a story about the views of a Dutchman in the Dutch East Indies. Even when I started searching, it was hard to find anything that was not written from the colonizer’s perspective. But I was vigilant and I stumbled upon a (quite famous) novel called “Things Fall Apart” by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.

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The story of “Things Fall Apart” is written from the perspective of Okonkwo, an Igbo leader and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia. As I read the story, I felt like it taught me more about being colonized than anything I had ever read in an actual history book. I do not know whether “Things Fall Apart” is based on factual history, but the way in which the culture of the Igbo people and the colonization of their land is described by Chinua, inspired me to continue writing in an entirely different way.

The story of Okonkwo, just as the story of Max Havelaar, is very personal. The people described in these novels all feel very real and the actual history is often just a backdrop. As I said in my first blog, Downton Abbey brought me back on track, but I now knew what it was that I felt was missing from our story so far: A timeless personal narrative.

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What Downton Abbey does very well is that it tells a 21st century story in an early-20th century setting. While the sets and clothes are all meticulously era-appropriate, the characters and their motivations are a lot less ruthless than their real-life counterparts whom we know about. But for the story and its message, this is hardly a problem.

Just like Downton Abbey, Herald itself is not an entirely accurate historical account of 19th century history, but it doesn’t really have to be. To better support the underlying ideas and message of Herald, we decided to set it in an alternate history. This world is tailored to convey a message about our current situation, while using the look and feel of a period drama. I’ve still incorporated many historical events into the story of Herald, but as inspiration rather than as fact.

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Herald is, after all, a story about people (then and now), not a history lesson. After this personal revelation I was up for the next big challenge; to find Devan Rensburg and his personal drama. To do so I spoke to people from many different cultural backgrounds, all of them had fascinating stories to tell, but a few really stuck with me. More about this, next time.

Part 3