Tag Archives: historical fiction

Letting Your Story Marinate

I can’t believe two months have flown by since my last post. In my defense, I had two work events – the one where I wrote my last post and another one in November. And by then we were sailing straight into Thanksgiving. And now, we’re tumbling right into Christmas and the New Year.

On the plus side, I DID write as planned at my work event in October.  Sadly, I haven’t written a word since I’ve gotten back.

But I’ve read that just as much of the writing happens in your head when you are not writing as happens when you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). Sometimes the story needs to sit in your head and marinate for a bit.

When I was figuring out how to bring my main male character back home after he walked away, it took a bit to come up with a satisfying story line to explain his absence. And then I had to find a way to bring him back because he needed to get sick and die. It’s what causes my main female character to take some chances. To get up out of the rut she has allowed society to box her into and make some changes in her life. It’s her chance to grow. His death – caused in part by the society they lived in – will give her the strength and determination to rise above. After all, she has children to raise. And she wants to be an example for them to follow. Her babies are the first generation born free and she will not allow them to accept being treated as slaves.

In any event, I had written myself into a place where I needed some time to mull it over and find a way to bring him to the illness to which he succumbs. A diphtheria epidemic rolls through Charleston and their youngest child becomes ill.  In working with the general idea that illness generally is hardest on the young, the elderly and the weak, it’s going to take him and the young child. This is going to be the most painful thing my main character has ever gone through (even having been born into slavery) and it’s going to be the fuel she needs to make changes.

Don’t ask what those changes are, because right now, I haven’t a clue. I have to wait for the story to get that far so I can see what direction she wants to take. Will she leave Charleston? Will she stay and fight for her rights? I expect she will stay, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned through this process is that you can never assume you know what your character wants to do until she’s right there, having to take action.

Word count 38,068

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I Could Do Anything…

I’m always looking for that one book that will change my life. When I started reading I Could Do Anything, I was hoping for an easy answer. What I got was over 300 pages of homework. In my heart, I know there is no such thing as an easy answer, but I can dream, can’t I?

That all being said, by the end of the book, I had an epiphany about what I wanted in a career. I’ve always wanted to write, but I’m also passionate about women’s history and genealogy. One of my favorite programs is Who Do You Think You Are. I love learning about the lives of every day people in history – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And my newest obsession is Charleston, SC history. Basically, the short story is – I’m all about writing and history.

Which explains the historical fiction book I’m writing. Now I just need to figure out a way to mix my interests into a job I can look forward to going to every day.

Honestly, I didn’t do all the exercises…I skipped ones that seemed too involved or that I just didn’t have any interest in. As it turns out, you don’t have to do every single exercise to get to the pot of gold.

You start by learning what other people in your life expect of you so you can begin to figure out where you lost your childhood love of _____. From there you will explore what you want from your job and what your interests are. All the way through, you are building an idea of what you would like your future to look like.

If you are still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, give I Could Do Anything a try. Sometimes, when you least expect it, buried in the middle of six pages of free-writing, you’ll find the nugget that gets to the heart of the story.

 

 

 

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My Perfect Writing Workshop

My strength, maybe even my muse, has always been found in the classroom. If I have to write a 10 page paper on the War of 1812 and it’s due in two weeks, I’m on it.  I’ll spend 13 days doing research and making notes, but in that last day, I’ll pull together a 12 page paper complete with bibliography and bar graphs.

I have three hours to write 500 words comparing/contrasting Shakespeare and Chaucer? No problem.

But I suck at leisure writing. By leisure writing, I’m referring to writing in my free time, monitored by no one but my inner critic. I always imagine myself sitting by the beach with my laptop, churning out page after page, but without a deadline of some sort, I struggle to get it off the ground.  I’m an instant gratification girl and, let’s face it, writing a book is NOT an instant gratification activity. Not in the same way as, say, running to the store and buying a doughnut.

I need the structure that a class, workshop, or conference provides. I need deadlines.

But even more than that, I crave the energy I get from writing classes. Spending a weekend at a writing conference, surrounded by people of like mind, recharges my batteries. I can take that magical energy home with me and it keeps me focused for several months.

But as with most flames, this candle burns out and I need to replace it with a new one.

Sadly, the writing conference I attended last October with SCWW is not happening this year. It might not happen next year either. As disappointing as this is, it may have turned out to be a blessing, because it has forced me to look elsewhere for the inspiration I need.

I found it with The Writer’s Workshop in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s further away from my home, so my ability to attend workshops will be fairly limited. But this October, I’m going to what may be the perfect workshop for me. They are offering a one day workshop called “Writing Historical Fiction.” Instead of a conference full of workshops that, while inspiring, aren’t directly applicable to what I’m working on, I can zone right in on getting the specific help I need.

You know what they say about when one door closes…

I registered for the class last week and booked my hotel room yesterday.

Bring on the writing pixie dust!

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Lost Research

Before starting my novel, I conducted some research. Research on life in the South during and after the Civil War, the Jim Crow Laws, and the KKK. All of which will fill out the background of the world my character is living in. I gathered this information in a file on my old computer, written as a free-write applying the information to my character. It went on for pages.

I needed it today so my character could react to the Black Codes enacted in the South after the war and…

Many of you will remember, the old computer crashed.

It appears I didn’t copy that file to my stick drive to transfer it to the laptop.  I’ve torn the house apart looking for a printed copy of the file to no avail. All the time invested in research that I now have to do again. The thought of losing all that work makes me sick.

Today I spent most of my writing time looking for this file. I spent some time surfing the web, looking for the bit of detail I wanted to add to my narrative. And, I’m not gonna lie, I spent a little of my writing time feeling sorry for myself for losing a file just as valuable as the timeline taped to my wall. Why, oh why hadn’t I taped the free-write to the wall?!

At some point, I’ll learn my lesson about electronic copies of important documents. Or at the very least, the importance of double checking that I’ve actually made an electronic copy (or two). Hopefully, I’ll stumble upon the printed copy that I know is here. I’ve seen it. I may have emailed it to…

WAIT! I haven’t checked my email yet!

Fingers crossed.

Word Count: 8686

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Writing the book and…it fails

One of the things that keeps me from putting words on the page is fear. I’ve talked about this before. Fear of the mountain of research, fear of not doing the story justice…and fear that my writing abilities are all in my head and the book will be crap.

Case in point:

I’ve always thought my husband could be a professional photographer. He knows all about lighting, he knows all the photographer words like “aperture” and what they mean, and he’s great with composition.

It occurred to me that maybe I could be a decent photographer as well. I also thought this would be the perfect complement to my writing career because I could illustrate my work. At the very least, I could get some photos into other people’s books and that would be equally cool.

So, I signed up on Shutterstock and submitted a few pictures. Of the ten I submitted, only three met all the submission requirements. I was disappointed, but not completely deterred. I combed through the rest of my pictures and none of the ones I thought were “my best work” met the pixel size requirements.

Even this, one of my favorite photos ever, is too small.

Even this, one of my favorite photos, doesn’t have enough pixels.

So I failed. I’m not the photographer I thought I was. At that second, I was ready to give up. My internal editor said, “See? I told you so.” I spent the next several days feeling sorry for myself.

Then I thought – Oh no! What if my writing is the same? What if I THINK it’s better than it really is? What if all my college professors were just humoring me to get me graduated out of the program so they could focus their time on students with REAL talent?

It’s so easy to get on this speeding train of self-doubt. Oh no, I burned the pork chops – my writing sucks. Oh no, I spilled glue on my scrapbook page – my writing sucks. I know it’s silly, but I stop writing until I’m able to get back out of my head again. Sometimes it takes a few hours, sometimes it takes days or weeks.

My soul knows that my head is trying too hard. My soul reminds me that even if no one else ever sees the book, it still has value to me. It’s still a story I’m interested in reading. It’s a story that needs to be told because it’s a side of history most of us have never heard. It’s a story that needs to get out of my head because it won’t let me focus on anything else. My character allows me to write this blog only because it’s directly related to her story. I have a friend who wants my help writing vows for her wedding and my character is making it difficult for me to redirect my focus.

So I sit in front of the computer, unable to think about anything else but scared about writing the words.

Crazy, right?

If you need me, I’ll be at the park with my camera getting more pixels.

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And the Muse Lives!

I wrote about three thousand words of my book since I last updated the word count. I was off work yesterday and spent a couple of hours going back through what I’ve already written and fleshing it out. I feel more comfortable going forward now, having matched up what I’ve written with my character’s timeline and adding important historical goings on, like President Lincoln’s assassination and reconstruction.

It’s interesting to watch some of my minor characters already changing from how I originally perceived them. The naïve best friend is the positive force that gets my protagonist to take risks. She is not as innocent as I thought. The best friend’s husband is a racist. I thought he was going to fake it to pacify others when society pressure forced him to choose or lose everything.

I’ve always been skeptical when authors talk about how the characters dictate to the writer who they are and what they want. You create the character…you know what you want this character to do. And then that character sticks his tongue out at you, “Oh yeah?” he says, “Well, I don’t want to do that. I’m going to do this…”

And then they proceed to do just that. No amount of revision on your part can change it, because anything else you try to write doesn’t ring true. No matter what you do, you can’t convince yourself this particular character would behave like that, and you’re the one who created him! If YOU can’t believe it, the reader won’t believe it either.

And the character laughs at you.

from clker.com shared by Mohamed Ibrahim

from clker.com
shared by Mohamed Ibrahim

And you throw your hands up in the air and say, “OK, you win.”

Word count: 7650

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Following the historical timeline

For me, the biggest problem writing historical fiction is making sure your story aligns with historical events. For example, my character’s family moves from their plantation into downtown Charleston during the Civil War. My research suggested that most families were leaving downtown while union soldiers occupied the city. A small oversight on my part that I have to acknowledge in some way or do a rewrite.

I also changed the age of a couple of characters.

It seemed it might be a good idea to print what I’ve written so far and match it up with the historical timeline I created to make sure I’m writing a believable story. I’m using a real person as the basis for my character, so I want the story as true to this person’s experiences as possible. I found a few discrepancies and now I have red ink all over the first several pages. Now I need to make the adjustments and pad a few scenes to smooth out the narrative.

Confession: I’ve had an ugly month and it didn’t hurt me to get my head back in the story.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

For a while, it looked like Molly had about used up her ninth life. As it turns out, this 17-year-old ball of fur is healthy as a horse. After testing her for everything they could think of, it turned out the old girl had a wicked nasty bladder infection.  My husband had shoulder surgery the end of March so he’s been off work recuperating. On top of all that, I’ve been sick the past two weeks with a cold. Coughing and cold medicine lead to migraine headaches, so there were two migraines mixed in for good measure.

I’m finally feeling like I can focus on something besides closing my eyes and having a nap. Although, looking at the rewriting I need to do is making the sofa look mighty inviting.

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