Since many of you have expressed an interest in having guests talk about "genre specific" issues, I've begun querying various authors and asking them to share their expertise with us.
I've mentioned on here before that Erica Vetsch was my first writing friend. I had the privilege of reading an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of her latest, A Bride's Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas and it prompted a couple questions.
She'll be here today and tomorrow answering those. And, dear woman that she is, she's offered to giveaway a copy of Bride's Portrait. To get yourself entered to win, you may either ask Erica a question or tell us everything you know about 1870s wet-plate photography.
Leave comments today and tomorrow to get yourself entered twice. U.S. Residents only. Contest closes September 20th. Blah, blah, blah. Here's Erica:
Thank you, Stephanie, for having me back here at Go Teen Writers. I love the community you’ve built, and I’m honored to get to talk to all the talented young writers here.
I write historical romance for the Christian market, and my current release is A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas. I’ll be using this book as an example today, but the principles should hold true for any historical fiction.
How do you write historical fiction set in a real town?
Writing about a real place is both a blessing and a burden. The blessing is: it’s real which lends authenticity to the story and there are lots of resources out there to gather information from. The burden is: it’s a real place where people live, and it’s important to get the details correct. So how do you find the info you need?
• Start with the Internet. It’s amazing what you can find online to point you in the right direction. One caveat here: be sure to verify any information you find online with another credible source. A wise researcher confirms information with at least one outside source.
• Head to your local library. For Dodge City, I researched maps of the period, newspaper articles, and biographies of folks who lived in Dodge. I used several sources to give me a feel for the setting, and where sources disagreed (and they will) I went with the version that best fitted my plot.
• If at all possible, visit the place you’re writing about. Take lots of pictures (if the museum allows it) and be sure to take photos of the museum signage so you can have all the details of an exhibit without having to stand there and write it all down. If you can’t visit, you can contact the local county historical society for answers to questions you might have.
At this point, I’m going to give you the golden rule of historical research. Research is like an iceberg. Only 10% of the awesome, cool, fascinating, amazing stuff you learn about your setting should make it into the novel. The other 90% needs to stay below the waterline. If you go into your research understanding this, it won’t be such a wrench when you realize you can’t put everything in the story without sounding like a history book. Remember, the story is about people, not the setting or time period. Less is more.
How do you capture a profession without it reading like info dumping?
In A Bride’s Portrait, my heroine, Addie, is a photographer. I’m not a photographer. I knew nothing about 1870’s wet-plate photography, so I researched it. I found books, websites, and videos on the history of photography. I researched things like chemicals, development processes, and the hazards of flash-powders.
Then I followed the golden rule of research and pared down the iceberg of information to the 10% that pertained to the story. Instead of stopping the story for a step-by-step explanation on antique camera photography, I eased it in a little at a time, making it active instead of passive. Addie interacted with the cameras, chemicals, and props as part of her everyday life. Using this technique keeps the story about the characters instead of the profession, and keeps the plot moving without halting to explain what the characters are doing.
Erica will be back tomorrow to talk about writing clean when your locale is dirty...