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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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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Puddled in Your Head

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Does it feel like you’ve been researching way too long without producing much?
Does it feel like way too much information has puddled in your head with no relief?

Earlier this week I felt the same way. With one-third of my journal filled I was feeling overwhelmed until I decided to bite the bullet and sticky-note it all. So I dug out my old college supplies, found those skinny Post-It strips, and got to work. Halfway through all the jumble I found my synopsis. And then halfway through the synopsis I found my characters’ route and from that I am finally able to start formulating my plot.

So don’t let the writing process frustrate you. That’s why it’s called the writing process; just give yourself time…especially if it’s a historical novel!


Why You Should Research Your Historical Novel

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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.


Pros and Cons of Writing

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I threw that wish in the well, and you know for sure I will tell cuz I am ready for this and nothing’s in my way…

Did I really just rewrite the first two lines of Carly Rae Jepson’s Call Me Maybe song to begin this blog post? I believe I did, but the writer in my was happy to do it. This writer is also happy that the top row of the QWERTY keyboard has all the letters to spell the word “writer.” I am too easily amused…

But onward to the topic of today’s blog post, the Pros and Cons for First Time Writers. I don’t think that there is a writer who, at one time or another, thought that they weren’t good enough. I never knew them personally, but I am sure that JRR Tolkein, Stephen King, CS Lewis, JK Rowling and James Patterson all probably wrote something the were not proud of and never published. So for the first time writers out there, let’s look at some. I have grouped the following four points into a “Pro, Con and Resolution” pattern. They’re things I have discovered about my own writing style that I hope you will find useful.

Pro: You ADORE a well-written historical novel and want to write one yourself.

Con: If you love history and want to write a gorgeous piece set in Victorian England, you are writing a historical novel. And if you are writing this type of fiction you better do your research. Why? Because readers are going to analyze it. They’ll know if you don’t know the grammar of that time period, the clothing or locations. That’s part of the challenge, and the fun, for this form of fiction.

Resolution: Do your research. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention you’ll most likely discover something you never knew before, so you’ll write and learn all at the same time. During the process you may also network with historians, library staff and other knowledgeable folks you may never have met otherwise. If you can afford to, travel to the area your novel is set to get immersed into those elements. Of course not everyone can afford the luxury of a plane ticket to France or Germany, but sometimes seeing is believing in your story and can bring new plots to light.

Pro: You LOVE writing but:

Con: You wrote a lot mostly in high school but now you want to write again. Can you really do this?

Resolution: Of COURSE you can! I taking the plunge myself. Don’t let those self-doubts get in the way of progress. Think of it this way: if one of the most hated men in world history can write an autobiography called Mein Kampf, you can most certainly fill the pages of your own. But give yourself time. Don’t dive right in without testing the waters first. I went back to my roots by beginning a short story. It’s no longer short…it’s basically a novella now…but once you start something, FINISH it. I believe that is the toughest thing for any type of artist to do – FINISHing their projects.

Pro: Resources are available in abundance.

Con: Maybe one too many?

Resolution: Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed, which is easy to do in this digital age. You want to network, yes, but make sure you network worth like-minded and trustworthy people. Don’t let the idea of social media and marketing yourself scare you off because you are going to want to sell yourself and your writing to potential readers, authors, publishers, and other online resources. Don’t burn any bridges unless the relationship becomes detrimental to your goals.

Pro: You know your vocab. You took high school English or majored in a librarian or journalistic career

Con: Yet novel writing isn’t exactly your forte.

Resolution: In today’s digital age ANYbody can be a writer, whether it’s a blog post, a journalist position, a news prompt writer, or if you’re like me, you’re shooting to have an actual book published with pages people can turn. If you feel like you need a confidence booster, it’s okay to go back to school. Many colleges and universities offer writing courses and some can even be donne by correspondence. My point here is: we are constantly learning. Even if you think you know how to write there is not one person who can know everything, so don’t take yourself too seriously if you reach those dreaded writer’s blocks. Learn something new, get outside, switch up your work space, and let your mind relax.

From one non-expert to another I hope that this blog has been somewhat useful. I am a new author myself, and this post was also a way to get out of my head the lessons I have learned from the past few weeks. Remember that you can be your own worst enemy when it comes to staying on task. And unless you are already contracted with a publisher, you can set your own pace. What are your pros and cons? Don’t be afraid to critique yourself.

Find what kind of prose makes you happy and run with it. If you dream it, you can do it.

Keep calm and write on!