What Is So Historical About Research?

By Tammy Trail

When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hardworking men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.

I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.

If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.

Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with firsthand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.

Other information you may need to research.

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Trades
  • Politics
  • Travel
  • Weapons

In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain.  I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?

I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.

I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.

I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s.  My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.

When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.

Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?

  • Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
  • Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
  • California is admitted as the 31st state.
  • P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.

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Back to Basics for Writers – Plotter or Pantser?

by Tammy Trail

You might be a PLOTTER if you have ever wondered if you should be more organized with your writing. Plotting is a systematic way of putting your story thoughts together. You might decide to do it by scene or chapter. You will need to know what each character’s goal, motivation and conflict are for each scene. This system may require you to write an outline of your story idea.

A writer friend showed me one method when I first started working on my story. You simply take 3 X 5 index cards and write each chapter idea on a card until you have each chapter worked out for the whole book. If you’re writing romance, a suggestion with this method is using different colored index cards for your hero and heroine. For instance, pink index cards for the heroine and blue for the hero. Using index cards gives you an opportunity to change the cards around to rearrange your chapters, or change the time frame of your inciting incident.

There are many different plotting systems you can find with the help of the internet. I have read the “Plot Skeleton”, by Angela Hunt. Randy Ingermason has a Snowflake system that you can purchase from his website. Scrivener is a downloadable system that helps organize your story and allows you to keep your notes, pictures, outline, and your manuscript all in one place. This is also a great tool if you decide to self-publish your novel.

Some writers may consider themselves ‘free spirits”, and refuse to use any kind of plotting system because it stifles the creative flow. This is the PANTSER method – you fly by the seat of your pants. I started out with an idea for a story with no formal plotting method I imagined my heroine’s appearance, her personality and motivation. Then I created a life for her in the 18th century that I incorporated into a story.

My initial first chapter is now my third chapter, and I finished the book just shy of 70,000 words. When I began to edit my story, I found plot holes; places where my story lost connection and became a dead end. Now that I’ve had time to think about my story, I’ve written a whole different first chapter. Sounds a little crazy, huh?

Well, admittedly I am flustered with the complete process. Do I feel that I’ve wasted my time? Not a bit. I have learned a lot from this first draft. I went back to my index cards and began to look at them in a whole different light. I began to fix plot holes, and really think about deep point of view for my main characters. It’s still a work in progress.

Whichever method you choose, neither is wrong as long as you write the story. I haven’t given myself a label. I guess I’m just a bit of a rogue. I love my characters and the journey I envision for them. One day soon I hope to call myself a published author. I’m still learning through my own journey. How about you?

Writing Prompt:  Tracy pushed the off button on the remote just as the first clap of thunder shook her little house. She went to the kitchen to retrieve her flashlight; storms and electricity didn’t get along in her small town. The flashlight was forgotten when she heard a  rattle at her back door. She watched in awe as the doorknob shook violently from left to right. Then the lights went out.

Click to Tweet: So you want to #write. Back to Basics – Plotter or Pantser?

Developing Plot in Your Novel

May is Developing Plot in Your Novel month. All you have to do is google ‘developing plot’ and you’ll see a multitude of articles written on the subject. You’ll find anything from two steps to twenty steps. You’ll also find things such as the Snowflake Method, The Hero’s Journey, etc, etc But before you jump into steps you probably ought to know what plot is.

Plot is a plan or a storyline.

Okay, now that you know that little tidbit let’s look at why you have to have a plot. Okay, well not just a plot but a well developed plot. If there isn’t a plan, if there isn’t a storyline, your story goes nowhere. Your characters would be nothing more than gerbils running on the wheel. And so would your readers.There has to be direction with a beginning, middle, and an end. There has to be direction. Can I say that again? Direction.

Just imagine what the popular TV show Castle would be like if all Castle and Beckett did was sit at their desks, drink coffee, eat donuts and tap their pencils against their teeth instead of chasing bad guys. One thing is for certain, ratings would fall because watchers would get bored.

If there isn’t a plan, if there isn’t a well developed storyline, your story goes nowhere.

Like I said before, there are all kinds of resources on the Internet for developing plot, but I’m going to share with you the 1st video out of 27 from one of my favorite plot gurus, Martha Alderson. She’s also known as The Plot Whisper. I didn’t quite understand the extensiveness of plot until I started watching her videos and reading her book, The Plot Whisperer.  It’s a little long, but well worth the viewing. For the rest of the videos click here.

Enjoy!

Windswept Fire

Tammy

My mother has lived in New Mexico for over 20 years. Every summer I get an update on the drought conditions in her state. I know that may seem like a strange topic of conversation over the phone, but she worries about fires. Most of the fires that eat up the wilderness in New Mexico are caused by lightning. A cook fire not properly doused by a camper can also be blamed. I always worry about those folks that smoke throwing their lit cigarettes out of their windows near grassy areas. Then there is the culprit that no one quite understands; the arsonist.
While reading a bit about wildfires I came across a story I had never read before. Perhaps you have heard of the Peshtigo Fire. On the 8th of October, 1871 a forest fire broke out near Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Farmers clearing land to plant by burning the ground is one theory on how it started. On this particular day a cold front blew in from the west causing strong winds to fan the flames into a maelstrom of destruction. It created a firestorm, hotter than any crematorium. When it was over an estimated 1,875 square miles of forest has been consumed, roughly the size of Rhode Island. Twelve communities had been destroyed and an accurate death count could never be determined because the records were also lost. Submerging themselves under the Peshtigo River or in wells, survivors recounted that a tornado of fire threw rail cars and houses into the air. There were also fires in several other places as well that fateful day. You might recall that the “Great Chicago” fire happened on this date as well.

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More recently, a devastating fire took place in August of 2011. It is believed that two cousins left a campfire unattended and burned 538,000 acres of national forest in Arizona and Western New Mexico. The Wallow fire cost over $79 million dollars to extinguish and the loss of forest will effect that area for generations. Thousands of crews were sent to battle the blaze. With winds gusting to 50 mph, embers sparked spot fires five to seven miles away from the main fire. Thousands of firefighting crews were dispatched, working in shifts to fight 24/7 until its containment.
In 2013 there were wildfires in Texas, Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, and Washington. Yellowstone National Park suffered a quarter of million acres loss. That’s a lot of scorched earth destroyed by nature, carelessness, or a determined individual. Let’s not leave out the many hardworking people who fight to save our land either on the ground digging fire breaks, or in the air retrieving water to douse the flames and spreading fire retardant chemicals using planes and helicopters.

Wallow Fire
Here in my own state of Kansas, we have suffered drought conditions for many years. Every spring farmers will burn off old growth from their fields to make it ready for the year’s new planting. Driving through the Flint Hills at night can be an amazing sight as a controlled line of fire slowly makes its way across empty acres of farmland. It can also be just as dangerous as any forest fire when the wind blows just enough to cause concern. We should all pray for gentle life giving rain to help these drought stricken areas, and remind people to be aware of simple fire safely while enjoying the great out of doors.

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Earthquake

The only natural disasters I experienced first hand happened when I was too little to know what was going on, and both of those have already been written about. So, I’m going to write about one of my obsessions. I’m not going to go into how plates shift and which types of earthquakes tend to be the strongest, and I’m not going to talk about my belief in the ‘earthquake storm theory’. Instead, I’m going to give you some facts that you may not know, ones that may or may not surprise you.

First let me remind you that earthquakes are a little different than most natural disasters. Avalanches and volcanoes can give off warning signs. With weather phenomenon such as floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and blizzards we typically have some form of advance notice. With hurricanes and blizzards it can be days. And I can tell you from experience tornado warning times have increased over the years. When I was a kid, sometimes warnings weren’t issued until a funnel cloud reached the ground. Now days, weather-casters try to give some sort of an advance warning. With the Alabama tornadoes Jennifer talked about the other day, meteorologists predicted that horrible event days in advance. They just didn’t know exact locations. Radar technology is so far advanced these days that most of the time warnings are given anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Of course, there is always that one tornado like the one that hit Joplin a few years back that comes completely unexpected.

Earthquakes don’t really come with warnings. Scientists are trying, but it’s hard to predict where and when and how big and without those predictions people can’t take shelter or evacuate like they can with weather related natural disasters.

Did you know that at the time of writing this there were over 37 earthquakes in the previous 24 hours over 2.5 on the Richter Scale? I’m sure many of remember the devastation of the earthquake that rocked Indonesia on December 26, 2004. It was 9.1-9.3 on the Richter Scale. Over 230,000 people perished that day, and yet it’s only  #5 on the deadliest earthquake list. The 2010 Haiti earthquake ranks #7. That death toll is somewhere between 110,000-300,000. The deadliest quake occurred in 1556 in China. 820,000 people died, which I find jaw-dropping given the year.

The strongest earthquake ever recorded happened May 22, 1960 in Chile. The shaker measured 9.5. A tsunami, another natural disaster caused by an earthquake, hit parts of Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Japan and cause major destruction in Hilo, Hawaii. Tsunami waves hitting the coast of Chile were reported as high as 82 feet! The waves from the December 26, 2004 tsunami were over 100 feet. The death toll during this particular Chile earthquake is uncertain but some estimate it to be around 6,000.

You remember when we were kids and everyone just knew that one day California was going to fall into the ocean? Well, in 2010, Chile was rocked with an 8.8 earthquake. It moved the city of Concepcion 10 miles to the west. Man, was that powerful or what? According to NASA, this earthquake may have caused earth’s axis to shift. And everyone seems to think our crazy weather has something to do with Global Warming, or Climate Change. Some say the Japan earthquake in 2011 shifted earth’s axis too. And if I remember correctly from my Geology course, earth’s axis has shifted many times over its existence, but that is another topic for another day.

Now let me tell you about a little known fault line right here in America. Of course, if you grew up in the area you’ve heard about it. And, I guess if you didn’t grow up in the area, like me, you might’ve heard about it. You might’ve heard some tall tales like, ‘Kansas used to be flat until that there earthquake shook the United States.’

I’m talking about New Madrid. In 1811 and 1812 a series of earthquakes occurred along the Mississippi River. They were so strong church bells rang in Boston, Massachusetts and in what is now known as Toronto. These particular earthquakes, although not the strongest recorded, were felt over 1 million sq miles.

Large chunks of the Mississippi River banks disappeared. One of the earthquakes caused the Mississippi to run backwards for a few hours. Travelers on the river were in for a shock when they found themselves moving the wrong way at a high rate of speed only to be swept back down the river and over falls that weren’t there previously.

These earthquakes were believed to range from 7.0 to 7.7. Due to the fact that the area was barely settled, loss of life was minimal and most deaths occurred from those on the river. Imagine if an earthquake of that magnitude were to happen today. To put it a little more in perspective check out the picture on this page .

Just look at all the major cities. Now you may be thinking that hey, the damage pattern doesn’t look that bad, but let me tell you something; one of the New Madrid earthquakes cracked sidewalks in Washington DC.

Here is a video that talks about some of the effects of the New Madrid.


Some say New Madrid isn’t active, but I can’t help wonder if it’s only a matter of time before it reminds people that it is active. And if it does, I can’t help but wonder at the tremendous natural disaster we as Americans will be facing.

You can find more information about New Madrid at the following links.

http://www.showme.net/~fkeller/quake/lib/eyewitness1.htm

http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/states/missouri/history.php