Those who write historical fiction need to know the background of their characters. The detail they need to go into is not as much as the historian does, but, more than the romance novelist does, certainly.
When developing a story, involving a historical perspective, the writer/researcher must know what he is talking about. He can’t be found to be mistaken in a detail. If he is going to be using a character, or a scene, he is not thoroughly familiar with, a little study is in order.
First, he should consider what details the story contains that he is not familiar with. Is it a true character, the architecture, the style of clothes, or the food? You can’t have ice cream served at a dinner in the 1500s, unless the diners were rich and at the courts of France or Italy. Or perhaps they were in China 2000 years ago, where all such exciting things are invented!
A story about a noble woman in 12th century England would require knowledge of clothing, availability of dressmakers and secrets to beauty tricks from that time. For example, belladonna, a poison in some dosages, also can be used to dilate pupils, a very enticing look in women.
The story of the building of a church would require the author to know building techniques, origins of stone and transportation methods.
Those who include a real historical character in their stories should look for pictures, written descriptions and background material on the personality of the character. The further back in history, the fewer the number of people who have been written about. Writing about one of my characters from the 1600s, I can find little information about his relatives, but found that he was not honest in his dealings with others, having been pulled into court on a number of occasions for not paying debts. Maybe his relatives did not want to own up to knowing him.
All this research takes time. The internet is full of information and is the first choice I would make in looking for facts. Be flexible and precise in your use of key words and phrases. The internet gives instantaneous answers. Books give very detailed answers. Both may be needed to get the whole picture, depending on what you need.
For those who wish to write a story based on facts, the author needs to look at primary writings and, then, secondary writings. Read what happened before reading an analysis of what occurred. For example, do not read Shakespeare’s depiction of the assassination of Julius Caesar for facts. Shakespeare rearranged parts of the story to fit his narrative. “Et tu, Brutus?” never happened.
Whatever you do, do your research early. Your readers will appreciate the extra work.
The Zion Covenant series is an extensive list of nine books. But it doesn’t end there. The story continues in two other series. So, for those of us who don’t want the story to end, we are in luck.
In the first book, “Vienna Prelude”, it is 1936 and Hitler has firm control of Germany. Now, he is looking to add to his Reich. Jews in Germany are already running into trouble. What happens to Austria is the subject of this first of the series.
The series has several protagonists. Introduced into the first book are the Lindheim family, Theo, Anna and their three children, Elisa, Wilhelm and Deiter. Elisa’s best friend is the cellist Leah. An American journalist, John Murphy, quickly comes to the fore. Several Nazi soldiers are also seen as the good guys.
There are several antagonists, as well, from the Fuhrer, himself, to Canaris, the head of the German Intelligence to several fictional characters who live out the rules of the Reich. Each is as frightful as the next. These characters’ stories weave in and out and amongst each other, occasionally to the detriment of one or another.
Due to the amazing number of protagonists, we readers get to see the prelude to the war from different perspectives. There is the pride of the Nazis, the destruction of family units, whether they are Jewish, Polish, Czech or agnostic. We learn of techniques used to help the distressed and how those techniques often were destroyed.
Bodie and Brock Thoene are two of my favorite authors. Well, actually, Bodie does most of the writing and Brock does most of the historical setup. The references to places and events show their complete familiarity with the back story, making me comfortable knowing that each act described is very possible. Their characters are very real, sometimes a little too idealistic for my tastes and not always right in their choices. As the characters move through the story, I want to cheer them on for making good decisions or grab them back from their poor decisions.
Of all the writing techniques this couple uses, the one I am fascinated with the most is the fast-paced change of POV, which happens several times per chapter. With a number of protagonists and antagonists involved in the plot, Bodie switches POV regularly, in order to keep the story in chronological order. The double spaces in the middle of a chapter tell us that a new person is being announced.
Another technique they use, which I enjoy, is a flash forward as the prelude to each book. This little gift shows a given character in a scene from the future. Sometimes it is a year in the future. Sometimes it is 45 years later. But the characters’ conversation somehow revert to the war every time.
The first time I read the series, I was fascinated by the stories. The second time I read it, I discovered that several more volumes had been added. I had also discovered, by then, my desire to write a series with as many protagonists. As I prepare for my own story, I can thank the Thoenes for demonstrating how to deal with such a large story.
In the latest Hadley Sisters Mystery, a very old, very faded document is found in a 25-year-old used book. It looked like a list. I utilized a bit of real history, here, being the history buff that I am. So, here is the real story behind the fiction document:
Massachusetts Bay Colony was settled very quickly in the 1630s and 1640s. 700 immigrants came in 1630 alone, 16,000 by 1636. Education was a primary requisite of the new Puritan village. In 1635, the first public school was established. Boston Latin School was opened to young boys. With a need for clergy, a year later, the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony voted to develop the College at New Towne (now known as Cambridge). First, they had to survey the land for the town, then find suitable property to purchase within the land for a college. They found an established farm that was being abandoned by its owner.
A young, energetic man, Nathaniel Eaton, who had had several years of teaching experience, arrived in June 1637. He came with his older brothers, Theophilus, former ambassador to Denmark and successful merchant, and Samuel, a Pilgrim minister. These two men were well known men of morals. They recommended their brother to be the professor/headmaster of the new college.
Nathaniel helped organize the school in the months before he moved in. He established an apple orchard, supervised the extension of the house and managed to get a printing press delivered half way through the first year. Being the new schoolmaster, he would have hired the employees, maids, servants and school assistants. He would have done the teaching of all the classes for the estimated nine to twelve boys who were enrolled. There were several teacher’s assistants to help with correcting the papers and other academic work.
By default, Mrs. Eaton was in charge of the feeding of all the students and employees of the college, as well as directing the day-to-day schedule on the farm and in the school. She also had several small sons, and taking care of her children would have been a big part of her day.
Nathaniel’s friendship with John Harvard, who lived in Charlestown, helped solidify the future of the college. Harvard died in early fall, 1638, at the same time that the doors opened for the first time. He left the school 779 pounds sterling and his entire library of four hundred books, thus setting the basis for having the school named after him in March 1639.
In the end, the fictional document was a list of required items needed by the new headmaster of the college to make the place run efficiently. The theory was that the document was left to an early family member, who passed it down, without much concern as to its historicity. It made for a good story, anyhow.
Writer first, family second? No. Not me. I keep thinking I can do both equally. Actually, I think I can wear a half dozen hats at all times. This is not possible, however. At least, not until I can clone myself or acquire the gift of bilocation, a gift I would only share with a half-dozen other people throughout history.
So, barring those two options, how am I supposed to get everything done? Extreme organization comes to mind. But, what are the exact steps to take in organizing a life that includes working the main job, writing books, maintaining the house, gardening, a prayer life and a few side jobs. I am of the opinion that extreme organizing is necessary for those who want to wear many hats.
It is a matter of self-discipline. And it is a pain in the neck to develop. But it works for those who want to wear all those hats. You must know your limits, how much you can handle at one time. You need to be able to take each day as a separate entity, within a larger goal structure.
I had to design my own organizer. And I put it on my desk opened to the current day. I have two weekly pages, divided into goals and each day’s assignments. The goals are subdivided into business, writing, personal and financial. There is space for three of each type of goal for that week. The days’ assignments are divided into “morning”, “afternoon” and “evening”. On succeeding pages, I have 1 page for each business day and 1 page for the weekend. Each page is divided into 6 squares, labelled “reminder”, “priorities”, “scheduled events”, “accomplishments”, “be grateful for” and “follow up”. Then I check off the list of things to do, say, buy, or whatever, during the day. By the end of the day, all the things I have yet to do get entered in the “follow up” section. I am not sure which I am better at: not filling my “to do” list too much or ignoring what I haven’t done yet. I often do not enter there. But at the end of the day, I make sure I record what I am grateful for. It is often my husband, who is so accommodating.
“Reminders” include what I did not accomplish the day before and my grocery lists, usually a pretty short list since I shop weekly, making sure to buy things that we are getting low on, even though we are not yet out. The “priorities” tend to be items like exercise, listen to a specific audio tape, or remind me of my diet. The “scheduled events” are typically the items recorded on the weekly pages. “Accomplishments” are a report to myself of what actually got done, although I sometimes just put checkmarks next to what was listed.
Since I am ADD, I tend to not do the same thing for a whole day. I give myself so many hours to do a blog, or clean the house, for example. Hence, the division on the weekly sheets into morning, afternoon, and evening.
I am still working on this organizer. So far, there isn’t a spot for reading, so it is relegated to times when I am riding in the car (not driving) or brushing my teeth. It’s a work in progress.
Any suggestions to be able to juggle my life and my organizer are cheerfully requested!
There are just some days when you can’t get a measly 2000 words done! I don’t mean the days when you also have to go to work, grocery shopping, cook dinner, etc. I mean a day when you plan to write but everything goes wrong.
Take today. It is Sunday. I get to dedicate the day to writing my WIP and a blog, or two. And make dinner. No problem, right? The house is quiet and I get about two hours in the middle of the day when it is positively dead. Perfect for writing. The phone rings. It is a friend who I helped publish a book. I work on helping him with his question. Sigh of relief. I type one paragraph of the scene I am working on.
The phone rings. It wakes up the dog. He comes and sits next to me. At 75 pounds, that can displace me off center of my seat. This time it is my son with a question. We have a business together. It is important to share concerns. That was easy. Back to the WIP. Another paragraph. But I am losing track of what I wanted to write. Reread the chapter.
The phone rings. It’s my mother. She has questions. She is bored with this quarantine/stay at home rule. I answer her questions and turn my attention to the computer.
But, then, the dog, Hansel, wants entertainment today. I let him out on the lead. He gets onto the deck. I have just enough time to get to my desk, 15 feet from the deck, when he is pawing the door. “In, Mommy, in!” He doesn’t want to be outdoors. So, I let him in then go back to my desk. He paws at my leg. “Pay attention to meeeee!” I get up, go to the pantry, get him a dog biscuit, which he takes care of before I have the box put away. Then I go sit down, again.
He circles my husband’s chair as he naps, very soundly, I should add. No, I tell him. Do not wake up Daddy. So, he comes back to me. “Pay attention to meeee!” Well, maybe he would be happy going outside without the lead. We live in the woods, with very few neighbors. He can run and stretch his long legs if he doesn’t have on the lead. So, I open the door and offer him to go outside. “Oh, no. You aren’t going to make me go outside!” So, I shut the door and go back to my computer.
The phone rings. It’s my mother. She has some questions. They are the same ones as the last time.
I look at my WIP, a novella of 25,000 words. It is at 19,400. Have to start wrapping up this story. The dog is very insistent that he wants attention. I want to finish this story!
Oh, forgot about dinner! I go down to the basement to get some chicken out of the big freezer. Hansel follows me down. Maybe he can find something fun in the basement. No, I just needed the chicken. He follows me back up. I put the chicken to thaw and go back to the computer. “No, Mommy! I want fun!” Take a deep breath. He followed me to the basement. Maybe he will follow me to the front door. He does. I open the door and he dashes out. I follow him out. And he growls. “This is my playground! You aren’t allowed here!” He runs around the cars in the driveway, happy as a clam.
Back to the computer. Maybe I can get a few words written before it is time to make dinner. Assuming I don’t get any more phone calls!
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