Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Ride in My Time Machine

As a writer of historical fiction based on the lives of real people, I'm often asked how I know so much about these people's private lives. My answer is always that it isn't that I know so much as I intuit based on careful research and study. It's impossible to know exactly what people thought, felt, or what went on in their relationships behind closed doors, but there are ways of researching that can give one a pretty good idea, at least enough to write a plausible, historically accurate story based on the facts and events in people's lives.

The way I start is by obtaining the facts. These form the foundation or the skeleton of my story and of my characters. Facts are things like documented dates, places, and events and physical evidence such as letters, documents, and first person testimony. Once I've established these things as the foundation, then I begin to search for clues that can give me more insight into the culture in which the characters are living their lives, the time in history, the region, the customs,
the prominent religious, spiritual, and philosophical views of the culture, as well as the history just preceding the time-frame of the story and the history just following. I also research the fashions, foods, and popular entertainment. The next level of research involves a study of basic human psychology and behavior and how that fits with the culture and history. I can then predict how a certain character could and most likely would handle any given situation and/or crisis that he or she might encounter in their lives.

I also devote a lot of time and research into the study of people who history might not have necessarily deemed as important in a character's life, but who may add some perspective to the character that might easily have been missed
because of research that is too focused on one central character and/or event. A good writer/storyteller knows that people aren't islands. Life is about relationships and how human beings respond to the different relationships that they develop within their lives. To focus one's research on one person is to create a one-dimensional story that omits other truths and perspectives.

After all the research is done, the creativity comes in. I combine my research with my intuition and skill as a writer to tell the story. I've had several readers of my So Faithful a Heart novels say to me that they had a difficult time separating the facts from the "fiction" because the two were combined so seamlessly that they simply got lost in the story and in the lives of the characters. Many have said it was if they were there - that they were literally transported back in time and into the various salons, ballrooms, bedrooms, gardens, and palaces where these people lived, loved and worked. That's what a good writer of historical fiction does; we give you a "fly-on-the-wall" view of the intimate, private lives of the people and events that you've read about in history.

In a real sense, I'm giving you a ride in my very own time machine!

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