The True Order of Things vs. the Fictional Order of Things

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I am writing an historical adventure novel. At one point in time I dreamt of it being a fantastical one as well but when I realized I was biting off more than I could chew for a first novel I downgraded it to purely historical.

Another problem arose: should it be true to the historical timeline or is it okay to take the creative license and put things slightly out of order to work for the story line? Does one sacrifice actual history in order to move a story along or do they choose different events to spur the characters onward?

Last week I asked my uncle to look at my novel outline and get his opinion on it. He’s been publishing children’s books for over twenty years and many of the children in the family have books dedicated to them because of him. So I trust his eye and knowledge of the system. Of course he’s been in the system for years and things have changed a bit since he’s started but he did make a good point. He said;

Am I right in remembering that there was going to be some fantasy element in the story? Or is it now more of an adventure based on historical events? If that is the case, then you might find people raising questions if things are out of historical order. Readers can be very fussy. And social media hasn’t made that any better.

When he said the “Readers can be very fussy” portion I got nervous, because I had reordered two significant events to match the adventure. I explained to him that I’ll be including a Preface or something after explaining the significance of the events and the players involved. My mind still wants to think that that will be enough but I am still unsure if it is the right move. So let’s look at both methods:

The True Order of Things. If I kept everything as-is, the climax of the story would happen very early in the character’s lives and not make much sense unless I extend the premise of the novel even longer than originally intended. Unless, of course, I find something else that makes sense as well. That would create more research work and I’m ready to dive right in by now!

The Fictional Order of Things. Here’s the downside of this one: if people were to purchase this thinking that it was a true historical novel they may be upset over the fact that things got flipped around without some sort of explanation. With the exception of some backstory and the main characters themselves, the main players mentioned in the book existed. I don’t want to give up too much and mention all the proper nouns here, but that’s one thing I love about history – the fact that these characters are so well known that countless books have been written on their subject matter. Do I sacrifice full historical fact just to make the story move along or do I keep my original outline?

I suppose that all these questions are just a part of the normal writing process, and I’ll admit that it was a question I did not anticipate coming to light. I just assumed that readers would automatically accept the reasoning without having to explain it. I am one of those readers who will look up individuals from a historical novel or television show myself so the mere fact that I, as a writer, didn’t take that into account makes me laugh. And perhaps once I figure out this order business the ending will come to light as well. But for now I’ll be diving into a book titled “The River Ran Red.”

Because what good is a historical novelist if they don’t even read history?


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The Complex Nature of Working Titles and Accidental Fan Fictions

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Working titles are just that: working titles. When I first started this journey into this novel (that’s going on two years now), I was convinced I wanted to name it Carrick. In Pittsburgh history, Carrick is a historic neighborhood founded in the 1700s and was not given the name Carrick until the 1853 when it officially became a borough at the request of Dr. John O’Brien. In the 1920s it officially became part of Pittsburgh suburbia and is the location of the historical Wigman house. The Wigman family may make a brief appearance in this novel, but who knows!

As I dove deeper into my research I came across mining terminology, and one such combustible item stuck in my mind. I don’t want to mention it here for fear that A: someone else would like the term or B: there’s already a book with the same title.

Not only did I end up with two working titles, I gained two separate story lines as well. Let me tell you – that confused me even more! It wasn’t until I was halfway through the first chapter of the second version that I realized I was fully basing it off one of my new favorite shows, When Calls the Heart, where the town begins life as, surprise surprise, a coal town. My mind’s eye was picturing their town houses, their families, and their geography. Several problems arose: Pennsylvania isn’t Canada. Pennsylvania didn’t have Mounties and Canada didn’t have canals. I was basically writing a glorified fan fiction.

That’s part of the danger right there: letting your mind become distracted from your original goal and allowing your fan fiction-writing past over influence your own novel. The first half of my writing “career” was mostly in the form of Star Trek and Supernatural fan fiction novellas – many of which I never finished – and I refuse to let myself get sucked back in. They were what helped shape my decision to actually write a full fledged novel. I’ll admit it right now: I’m scared. Scared of never actually writing it. Scared of the rejection letters. Scared of not having the funds to have a really good editor or someone having faith in the story to want to edit it in the first place. I’m not seasoned like many of my favorite authors who are able to crank out stories because it’s their second nature. They know their characters inside and out. I’m still just treading water, waiting to do that butterfly meter race and win with a published book.

Step one: Have confidence in myself.
Step two: Complete my outline.
Step three: Be brave enough to find someone to critique it.

When you write you pour a bit of yourself into each and every story. It’s like putting your heart on your sleeve and I haven’t had great results with that before. But this time. With this novel – regardless of if the name Carrick sticks or not – I will complete it.


What Inspired Me to Write #firedamp

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It was literally a dream. Without sounding prophetical or in need of being admitted to an asylum, that is exactly how the idea for Firedamp came about. A dream. The kind of dream that was so vivid that you wake up after and you have to wonder if it actually happened or not. So I had the idea but it was the execution of it that perplexed me at first. Then it dawned on me:  what better way than to combine something fantastical with historical fact? Not only that, but center it in a place you love and where you grew up? We’ve all heard the phrase, “Write what you know.” What I know is Pennsylvania.

The American Keystone State of Pennsylvania is one of the oldest colonies in the United States. From Fort Pitt to Gettysburg to Homestead and beyond, events in these places helped establish Pennsylvania as an integral force throughout history. But also in Pennsylvania, it became an industrial hub for the blue collar working class. With their lives being dictated by old money and those who controlled it. All these factors will come to play in Firedamp in one way or another, and I hope I somehow do it justice.

While I admit that it has been an on-again-off-again project, I am constantly thinking of it, constantly researching, constantly writing and constantly outlining. Firedamp is a historically-driven novel that combines several big events where hopefully readers of all ages will not only enjoy but learn something new in the process about the past that should not be forgotten.

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Apparently “Beta Readers” Are a Thing

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When I first ventured into this new phase of my life I never knew there was such a thing as a “beta reader.” As I looked more into it the more I realized that maybe I should find a few of my own. But then that “fear” crept up again. You know…the fear

Of course in Rachel’s case it’s fear of quitting her job and making something of her life, but I think the same concept applies here. I’ve been afraid of showing others not only what I’ve written so far but how little of it I’ve actually produced.

But then I realized that that is what I have been craving. I needed input. Someone to tell me whether they like it or hate it. Whether it’s a storyline they’ve read before or not. Whether it’s something they think is marketable, relevant, or fresh. I think it’s something every writer has to face some day – the criticism. I think that that is what’s been causing the mental block in my head from continuing with what I have already. Now thankfully I think I’ve found someone with whom I can share these fears, a fellow writer who is also working on her first novel as well.

There’s still that trepidation though, of whether or not you’ve chosen the right person, but beta readers are a necessary part of the writing process, and there’s only doing, not just trying. (Though I’m sure I’m butchering that phrase just now!)


Why You Should Research Your Historical Novel

Stardate 94766.96: #writetip

Every writer has to start somewhere. Every potential author needs to know that they don’t know everything. That, quite honestly, is one of the cold hard truths of the fast-paced publishing world. When I started this book last September, all I had was one tiny idea. One tiny element that would eventually grow to be this beast of a project where I am consistently learning new things.

If you’re going to write about a certain time period, KNOW that time period. You can’t write on the mid 1800s if all you’ve seen on the subject is a single film version of Jane Eyre. You have to immerse yourself in it. Be analytical of the content you find and be extremely picky of what you choose to include in your own nonfiction.

For first-time writers the task can be daunting at first. It was for me when I realized how little I knew. Some authors can pick up their pen and crank out half a novel in a night. Don’t let yourself become discouraged if you find yourself getting stuck. That’s what the research there is for! If you’re not sure what type of hat your character could have worn, or why they believe what they believe, or if the town you chose for your backdrop is the proper setting for your climax, research it.

Another truth: readers will know, and want to know, why you chose the details you put in. Your readers will also be able to pick up on false facts, especially if you’re writing something historical. Granted, it will be your take on events that actually happened, but be prepared to be able to explain the why.

Is research daunting? Yes. But you will not only find connections in the process but gain a wealth of knowledge on your subjects that you may otherwise have never known.



Locations Locations Locations

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#WQOTD: Writing Question of the Day

Question: How many locations do I really want to attempt to squeeze into my historical novel? There are so many in one State alone that it is difficult to narrow it down. All of them have potential and fit into my time frame.

Answer: Outline. Outline outline outline. I believe I have passed the point in my research where it is time to hash out the chain of events necessary to get me from Location A to B to C. Remember:

Exposition – Rising Action – Climax – Falling Action – Resolution