That's what I've accused Will Shakespeare of doing with The Merry Wives of Windsor.
See, I'd come across this Worcestershire tradition that our Willy spent eight months, at some point in his life, hiding out in a village called Earl's Common. Why would he be hiding out, I wondered? And when did he have had eight months spare to do his hiding?
Exploring Earl's Common and its environs, a few things struck me. One was that it was a profoundly Catholic neighbourhood back then, with one of the closest houses belonging to two of the Gunpowder Plotters (in fact, three brothers died as a result of the plot - the house is called Huddington Court, and I bigged it up a few blogs back as one of my favourite places). The other was that I kept finding echoes of The Merry Wives of Windsor in the area.
So, the theory I evolved was that Will, aged seventeen or thereabouts, had to go into hiding. He'd been associating with Jesuits, principally Edmund Campion, and when Campion was arrested, tortured and executed by the government Catholics all across the country panicked. Will had to lie low.
According to Shakespearean legend, The Merry Wives of Windsor was written in a hurry. Queen Elizabeth demanded to see 'Falstaff in love' and Will had just two weeks to come up with a show. Under that kind of pressure, what could he do but fall back on the familiar? So he recalled those eight months spent hiding from government agents and turned it into comedy (and, in the process, 'invented' the legend of Herne's Oak in Windsor Great Park).
The thing is, I'm falling back on the familiar, too. What with a host of distractions and suchlike, it's taken me ages to write my sample chapters for Will's Treason. Last week I realised that I was far from satisfied with what I'd got, so I set about rewriting the chapters, yet again, only this time with STRUCTURE.
Structure is one of the things I teach as a screenwriter. In screenwriting, structure is everything. 'Normal' writing (like fiction novels) has always scared me because where's the structure?
So now I'm trying to apply some of the rules of screenwriting structure to my historical chapters. Will it work? Who can say? But that's what we do when we're under pressure, yeah?
We fall back on the familiar.