A Brief History of Brief Histories

“So how much of this really happened?”

That’s one of the first questions that people always ask me about The Last Days of Night. And if you’ve read it already, and if you’ve then read the 10-page author’s note on historical sourcing that accompanies the print version, you know the answer is something like, “well, it’s sort of complicated…” As a piece of historical fiction, the novel blends fact, fiction, and educated guesswork in virtually every sentence. Parsing out the “real” and the “imagined” can be like trying to divide the milk from the coffee in a café au lait — once blended, they’re inseparable. (And, hopefully, delicious.)

Now, one of the main techniques I employed in dramatizing this history was a compression and rearrangement of the historical timeline. And I thought it might be cool to show you, the curious reader, exactly how I went about doing it. There you’ll find two timelines: The real historical chronology of events, right next to my rearranged fictional one. You should be able to see where they line up and where they diverge. You can also find primary source accounts of the events in question (newspaper articles, etc) by clicking on them.

Below is a photo of the process of timeline rearrangement — this was my first attempt at outlining the novel, by organizing all the real events I knew I wanted to use, and inserting some of the fictional ones I knew I wanted to imagine. As you can see, this was just my first stab at it: A lot of rearrangement continued to happen from draft to draft.

Also, in case anyone has the mistaken impression that I have legible handwriting: This is not my handwriting. It’s my friend (and agent) Jenn’s. This was composed, together, over a long Sunday afternoon in her apartment. That even such an early outline employs someone else’s penmanship may also disabuse the reader of the notion that a novel like this is entirely the product of a singular author.

Graham Moore
Graham Moore

Graham Moore is a New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for THE IMITATION GAME won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.