Writing Historical Fiction

Published June 26, 2012 by Ms. Nine

I hesitated to visit the setting of my WIP.    After all, the trip was expensive, and I had gone into “early retirement” to pursue writing.  My husband agreed to fund it as a vacation with the implied expectation that I would be doing research while he would be fishing.   Work for me, fun for him.  As a writer, I could conjure up the whole historic premise, craft a plausible conflict, and whittle a doozy of a storyline.  Okay, so that much hasn’t changed.  What, then, did I gain from my trip?

Months ago, I began writing a story about the fall of innocence.  My protagonist is a young boy whose wishes, like dazzling diamonds, attract him to an evil entity that blinds him from seeing the truth.

As I fleshed out my characters and wrote a few scenes, I noticed thematic parallels in American history like the McCarthy/Cold War era of the 50s.  This, and other elements, led me to a hamlet in the Adirondacks.  Aha!  Like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, out popped my setting – the Village of Saranac Lake in the 1950s.

For months, the bulk of my research was online sifting through databases of government documents and Google images of cure cottages.   I realized I needed research of a more tangible sort.  I needed to experience the setting with all of my senses.

Last week, I explored Saranac Lake and saw it though the eyes of my characters.  As I snapped pictures of a park by the Saranac River, I was Caleb running home through a short cut.   At the Trudeau Institute, I became Dr. Stone examining my conscience, troubled by the deal I made with the CIA.  Driving the main streets and nearby neighborhoods, I was David making my last fateful delivery.   Touring the Saranac Laboratory Museum, the twisted thoughts of Agent Mallory followed me up the spiral stairs to the upper room.  As luck would have it, the present-day caretakers lovingly restored it to its original state.  Wonderful!

My camera is loaded with images of the village.  When I review them, my handle of the setting is clear: goodness and wickedness at play.   The place is real to me now.  I will, in turn, make it real to my readers.

 

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