Fact to fiction - Researching historical fiction “Just in Time”
As a reader, historical fiction entices me because I learn about a different place and time. I admire the author’s ability to choose just the right details to transport me to another era without bogging me down in details that are nice but not necessary.
As a first-time writer of historical fiction, my challenge was knowing what details I’d need. At the outset of writing Go Away Home, I knew my general story line and made extensive lists of things I’d need to know about the WWI era – clothing styles, farming methods, camera types, remedies for the flu, prevalence of cars, road construction, types of buggies. The list went on and on. Then I set about finding resources to learn about each of these – trips to the historical society, interviews with subject matter experts, Internet searches that lasted for hours.
The research process itself became a passion. I loved it.
Eventually, however, I realized that while endlessly fascinating, the research was keeping me from actually writing. The research was uncovering a wealth of information that while interesting would probably never make it into my novel.
As a career public relations professional, I always subscribed to the belief that I needed to know ten times more about a subject than I finally wrote, yet the path I was on was becoming ridiculous. In that moment I fully embraced a writing mantra I now live by: Reading isn’t writing. Thinking isn’t writing. Research isn’t writing. Only writing is writing.
I determined that my first need was to write a good story. Once I knew the story, I could retrofit the just right details to bring the era to life. I didn’t need to know all types of cameras a professional studio might use; I needed to know one. This led me to my “just in time” research approach.
“Just in time” manufacturing avoids excess inventory and carrying costs by making what a client needs in the moment the client needs it. In the same way I began to research details as I needed them. Folk remedies for headaches, for instance, at the moment I discovered my character suffers from headaches.
When I was in the flow of writing and stumbled for lack of information, I marked the spot with xxx and went on. Later, I could easily search and find the area of information need again. Eventually I’d accumulate enough specific questions that a day at the Living History Farms or the State Historical Society made sense. When I made the trip, I knew exactly what I was looking for and I’d come home with whole lists of the specific details to fill the holes in my manuscript.
Though my approach worked fairly well, it was not without its difficulties. I wrote a scene in which a photographer in Europe wants to send photos to a New York publisher only to find the technology available at the time didn’t support such an action. I had to rewrite that scene and adjust a couple of others. Ultimately the rewrite was minor, even though I had to adjust the character’s motivation. Plus, the rewrite took less time than researching photo transmission earlier when I wasn’t certain I’d need to know that.
Just in Time research enabled me to incorporate the just right historical details into Go Away Home in the most efficient way possible.
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From the Back Cover:
Liddie Treadway grew up on a family farm where options for her future were marriage or teaching. Encouraged by suffragette rhetoric and her maiden aunt, Liddie is determined to avoid both and pursue a career. Her goal is within her grasp when her older sister’s abrupt departure threatens to keep her on the farm forever.
Once she is able to experience the world she’s dreamed of, Liddie is enthralled with her independence, a new-found passion for photography, and the man who teaches her. Yet, the family, friends, and life of her youth tug at her heart, and she must face the reality that life is not as simple, or the choices as clear-cut, as she once imagined.
GO AWAY HOME is a coming-of-age novel that explores the enduring themes of family, friendship, and love, as well as death and grief. This novel will resonate with anyone who’s confronted the conflict between dreams and reality and come to recognize that getting what you want can be a two-edged sword.
About the Author:
Carol Bodensteiner grew up in the heartland of the United States, and she continues to draw writing inspiration from the people, places, culture, and history of the area. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society. She is the author of Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, a memoir. Her essays have been published in several anthologies. Go Away Home is her first novel.
For more information please visit Carol Bodensteiner’s Website/Blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. Sign up for Carol’s Newsletter.
Read the first chapters now: http://carolbodensteiner.com/go-away-home-a-novel/