These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.
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A huge 'thank you' to Yvonne Blake for writing a second lesson for me during this crazy two months when I was so very busy (we had a kitchen remodeled and went to Florida to help our daughter move, and I was working two part-time jobs). I'm very grateful to her for stepping up, and I think you'll find this lesson quite valuable.
My list of topics for future lessons is down to one, so if you have any ideas, please let me know, either by sending me a PM or by responding to one of my old lessons (but not to this one, as I won't get a notification).
Yvonne has published an historical novel, A Home for Phoebe, and its sequel, Going Home with Phoebe, which are set in the mid-1800’s near Albany, New York. They are filled with tidbits of the culture and history of that time. Also, she has compiled some of her Faithwriter Challenge entries, poems and short stories, into a book, In Their Sandals. These focus on familiar Bible stories through a different character’s point of view. You can find her books at Amazon.com or you may contact her to receive a signed copy.
Thank you, Jan, for letting me be on your page. It's a pleasure being here.
Jan has graciously allowed me to come back to share a few things I've learned on my writing path. I definitely don't consider myself an expert, but merely a curious person and a bit of a perfectionist. I research because I don't want my writing to lead my readers (especially children) into acquiring false information because of my lack of diligence. I always learn much more than I include in my writing, but hopefully, some of it will seep through.
DIFFERENT WAYS TO RESEARCH
A good writer includes details—types of trees, animals, flowers, etc. He dresses the characters according to the season and century. He gives them appropriate tools and objects. The characters travel somehow from one place to another. These all give the story depth and realism—unless the details are incorrect.
Sometimes these errors are blatantly obvious. (a train in the 1600’s) Others errors might not be obvious, except to those who are familiar with that fact. (a chipmunk living in a tree) So how can a writer know all these facts? Lots and lots of research! The more you study and insert details into your writing, the more interesting it will be.
Usually, I write (or think) of a basic plot. Then I begin asking myself questions about it—things I don’t know or things I want to check, to be sure of what I think are facts. It’s possible to write about places you’ve never seen or about people living hundreds or thousands of years ago.
The Writer’s Challenge has often sent me on research scavenger hunts. Here are a couple of examples:
Another Place - Walkabout Willy
Historic Person - Blinded
Writing about your present time may not require as much research, but the more uncommon the setting or group of people you choose, the more your reader will be fascinated by them. Be a teacher, but do it as a storyteller. Adding a detail here or there will give volumes of information.
Of course, historical details ought to be accurate. People, especially children, learn information from books. Even if a book is fiction, it is good to make it as accurate as possible. Also, writing Biblical stories, even when they’re fictionalized, should be based on as many facts as possible.
Here is a link to one of my Biblical stories: (I especially enjoyed this research.)
There are a variety of resources for research. Here are a few. I’m sure you can think of more.
MEMORIES – Close your eyes and remember. Remember smells, sounds, colors, etc.
Treasure old diaries and journals –other people’s memories.
BOOKS – Visit the library, local bookstores (of your setting), keep eye out at flea markets, used bookstores for information pertaining to your writing subject.
(diaries, journals, hymnbooks, poetry books, recipe books, regional wildlife and vegetation, etc.)
ONLINE – Google is great. Don’t depend on one site for all your information. (not all are accurate)
Maps, genealogies, lists of names and facts, and timelines are valuable sources of information.
Timelines - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_historic_inventions#19th_century
Maps -- http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/map_sites/hist_sites.html
PEOPLE – Talk to people who have knowledge of places, skills, or history that you need.
Ask questions. Tell them you are a writer and want to be accurate.
EXPERIENCE – If possible, go to the place where your story is set. Take pictures. Ask questions.
Be observant. Notice things particular to that place – trees, weather, accents, etc.
No matter how much a writer does his homework and researches his content, there are sure to be errors. Although I spent many years researching while writing my historical novels, I expect that someone, someday, will explain that I have some detail wrong. That’s okay. It will tell me that they read my book, and that will make me happy.
Tell me of an interesting research that took you on an adventure.
Or. . .
Tell me of a resource that I didn’t mention.
Or . . .
Give an example of authors that clearly show they have done their research.
Great post, Vonnie!
Whenever I think of research for a challenge entry, I always think of an entry I wrote for the USA topic years ago, on the first person to pass through Ellis Island, Annie Moore (New). The research on it was absolutely fascinating - and I only included the tiniest tidbit in my challenge entry (and not even the most fascinating stuff LOL). Her story absolutely captivated me (as well as all the stuff afterward). Apparently when I wrote this I said there needed to be a novel about it. Pretty sure that it still true.
As far as folks who are very careful with their research, Roseanna White comes to mind - love her historicals and biblicals - I always feel like I am there (wherever there is).
One thing she is a particular stickler for (and which I don't think I saw mentioned in your piece, Vonnie), is the language. She tries to be especially careful not to use words that weren't in existence when her stories were set (or that didn't have the proper meaning then). There are reference books that can give you this information (The Oxford English Dictionary is probably the most well-known). I also know that Etymology online is a good resource for this.
LOVE researching too (as long as I actually get back to the writing eventually LOL).
This is a very interesting topic. Thanks Yvonne (or do you prefer Vonnie?) for sharing your vast knowledge on researching a topic.
Memories are a big resource for me. However I find myself returning to my old journals because memories bring visions of something I've written before. It might be a quote or scripture I wrote down that I want to use, or part of God Writing I have captured. God Writing is when I give the pen to the Holy Spirit, and give God a voice. Communication is a two-way street, after all. Some of the articles I posted are from God Writings.
When focusing on historical research, a thought that occurred to me is to, check out a historical society, if there is one in your city or town.
Thanks for posting this very important topic.
Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance. -Jude 2 NIV
I've done extensive research for more than a few fictional challenge entries, and those are among my personal favorites, even tho they didn't tend to place well as a whole. However, the one I almost didn't enter due to the subject matter was chosen as an EC. Go figure.
When I first started at FaithWriters, I wrote a biblical fiction short for the general submissions and also put it in the critique circle. I'd made sure it was as biblically accurate as I could make ... except for the characters' names. One helpful critique-er pointed out that the names I thought sounded good weren't historically accurate. I love a helpful comment/critique!
Thank you for your replies.
Joanne, I've never read any books by Roseanna White, but I like authors that take the time to make their writing authentic. My favorite Biblical story writer is Ellen Gunderson Traylor. You can tell she has spent a lot of time studying the culture and history of Biblical times.
Yes, language is important - not only keeping the vocabulary within the time period, but also dialects and lingo of certain occupations and nationalities. I actually got help from a Algonquin national with my book A Home for Phoebe. She wrote the lullaby that Masseppa sang to Phoebe.
Judy, "Vonnie" is fine - especially in the FW circle, where it was given to me, although I'm called Yvonne (Mrs. Blake or Grammy) everywhere else. Journals are a good source for triggering memories, and of course, the Bible is one the best resources. I never thought of an historical society. I suppose you could include museums, too.
Catlin, you mentioned names. I have a baby name book that is broken into nationalities. I love it. I'm glad that you are careful to be accurate for Biblical stories. My newest book, In Their Sandals, is a collection of poems and stories with Biblical base. They are fictionalized by imagining what it would be like to be there, often as one of the minor characters.
My father did a lot of genealogy research and included little bits about incidents in their lives when he found it, carefully noting if it was historical or just family tradition. One of the incidents is begging to be written into a story - a project I am beginning to work on. When I started on-line research to get more information, I repeatedly found referrals to my father and his work. I have his notes, but he has long since passed. I can research more about the time and culture in other places, but for the family references, I guess I am on my own.
I wish more people would realize the importance of writing things down for the future generations and sharing with them. If I had known a fraction of what my father wrote about his life when I was growing up, it would have had a profound effect on our relationship. Now I'm just trying to save them in a form that young people can read and be enriched.
Thank you for keeping our writing brains engaged while Jan is occupied.
There are so many good Christian researching writers, from Joel Rosenberg
to Brock and Bodie Thoene. One of my favorite historic writers is Ellis Peters, who wrote a series of mysteries set in 12th or 13th century England. The sleuth is a monk, and it is fascinating to think about how crimes might have been solved prior to modern crime labs.
Most of my research is done online, as that is what is most accessible to me, but I am careful of my sources, and list them if they are especially integral to my entry. I hadn't realized just how much I research, even for minor details, until I read your lesson. I have researched subjects from the seven natural wonders of the world, to bedbugs and sloths, and those were all for poems. I think my first research for a challenge entry was interviewing our older son over the phone in order to depict a realistic indoor climbing wall experience.
It really dampens my appreciation of a piece, even an otherwise excellent one, if it has glaring inaccuracies, so I try to politely bring it to the author's attention.
"There are two ways of spreading light -- to be the candle, or the mirror that reflects it." Edith Wharton
'It is better to be liked for the true you, than to be loved for who people think you are.'
"In order to realize the worth of the anchor, one needs to feel the stress of the storm." Daily Encouragement Net (Stephen & Brooksyne Weber)
Thanks for the comments, Holly. It's a good habit to research all kinds of things. Sloths and bedbugs? I haven't had the opportunity to research them. Those books by Ellis Peters sound interesting.
Tosca Lee is another author who does extensive research for her fiction novels. She spent a good bit of time in Europe, touring the countries and cities in new suspense novel "The Progeny". Her Biblical fiction is OUTSTANDING and meticulously researched.
On the opposite note, I discarded a free Kindle book recently when a scene in the Atlanta airport was outlandishly, comically inaccurate. It was obvious the author had never been there, let alone even looked on the internet for information. When the protagonist (who was a bad caricature of a Marine) walked across the street to find something to eat, I deleted the book. Seriously?
Cathy, I had to smile, because I've stopped reading a book when the author had a cardinal peck at a tree. I think, if you want to add a specific detail (Atlanta or cardinal) you better be familiar with it. If not, then learn about it.
I cut a whole scene out of my historical novel because I wanted to include a sheep shearing scene, but I had trouble finding out information about how they did it in that time period. It wasn't a key scene, so I cut it rather than make it the mistake of losing some readers who knew better than I did about sheep. (If it were a key scene, I would have taken more time and effort to get it right.)
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