Finding the Golden Details for your Writing

It’s been a couple of weeks since my husband and I took our mini vacation to Greenville, South Carolina. In our travels that weekend, we stumbled upon a small confederate museum. With the confederate flag debate (and the fact that we are, technically, Yankees) we thought we owed it to ourselves to stop in and learn a little more about Southern history.

We’ve heard many things about what the flag means to people but these are the kinds of debates that remind me that I’m “not from around here.” My family hasn’t been here for generations so it’s sometimes difficult to put myself in the shoes of either side. It seems both sides make a valid point and I don’t envy the job of lawmakers trying to figure out the compromise. It’s horrifying to learn the KKK showed up in Columbia to protest the flag removal. I’m sure it shows my Midwestern naiveté, but I could hardly wrap my head around the fact that the KKK was still alive and well.

The book I’m writing is historical fiction set in the south. My husband and I are both interested in history. Even though the museum might skew one way over the other, we decided to give it a chance. It doesn’t hurt to learn one viewpoint, just so long as you take the time to learn the other as well.

They had some amazing artifacts in the museum. It’s not a big place – just a small house in a quiet neighborhood outside of downtown Greenville. The historic information about the “War of Northern Aggression” was quite interesting.

I was a little uncomfortable heading into this museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, but I wasn’t sure I would be comfortable with the possibility of running smack into some good old boys holding tight to their Old South beliefs. What I found was an interesting display of photographs, cannonballs, uniforms, and war-time medical instruments. The “instruments” used for performing amputations nearly made me faint.

I mean, can you just imagine this??

I mean, can you just imagine this??

The gentlemen were obviously passionate about the history they had on display and shared fabulous stories about many of the pieces in their collection. But more than that, I found a few gems for my book. Little details I might not find anywhere else that would help my story ring true. I picked up handouts titled, “What Did She Wear,” “Hair Art Jewelry,” and “The Language of the Fan.” I found a list of books about women of the Civil War era and some websites for genealogical research – as well as the contact information for a woman who, for a small fee, would locate military records on your ancestor for you. It was like hitting the jackpot! Two birds with one stone.

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If I had let my discomfort keep me from walking through the door, I would have missed out on some of this information – essentially, period research – that I never would have thought to go looking for myself. These are the kinds of details that will help my character’s jump off the page. I would have missed the gold on the back wall of a small white house that looks the same as small white houses across the country.

You never know what you might stumble upon if you look.

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