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squiggledy piece – a piece with an otherwise hard-to-describe shape

February 2nd, 2013

I love historical research and writing stories about the past. To me, the work of fitting my plot into a specific historical time period is a little like working a puzzle, and I love me a good puzzle! The pieces all get dumped out on a tabletop willy-nilly to begin with, it’s the only real way to start, but there are some hard fast rules when it comes to putting the big picture together and I adore the challenge that this presents.

I always begin by sorting out all of the edge pieces. I need to know the exact perimeter before I can really make a good start of things and I can’t fudge on this by cramming the wrong piece in where it doesn’t belong, otherwise someone is sure to notice that I’ve made it all crooked. But oh bother! A lot of the pieces look nearly the same and their differences are very slight, yet very real. How do I find the one I’m looking for?

This can be the biggest test when writing historical fiction. Like so many colored puzzle pieces, research sources sometimes offer similar but conflicting variations of the same “truth”. I used to drive myself nuts trying to determine who had it right and I still maintain that it’s very important to double and triple check your facts, but I often find that, in the end, I really just need to choose from the most promising of the batch and see how well it fits.

Once the edge is down, it’s time to sort the colors, shapes, and patterns into neat little piles. Though there is a lot more to work with here, the pieces won’t lock into place if I don’t keep to the rules. I like that. I can sit there in my pajamas for hours, turning things around and trying them this way and that until days or weeks or even months pass by and the individual bits of cardboard are transformed into an actual full-blown image. It’s just so satisfying to sit back and see how the separate pieces have disappeared into the overall picture when the puzzle is finally done.

I’ve run across many good research websites over the years and I’d like to share a few here. If you know of some you’d like to suggest, please post the links in the Comments section.

Thanks for reading and happy researching!

Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar (Morrigan Books/Oct2011) and The Reading Lessons (Immortal Ink Publishing/May 2013) Please give her books a look or visit her at one of her websites.

carolelanham.com
horrorhomemaker.com

http://www.amazon.com/The-Whisper-Jar-ebook/dp/B0062ID33K

http://www.immortalinkpublishing.com/books.php?id=21

1000 Most popular Names of the 1890s

http://www.baby2see.com/names/1890s.html

Food Timelines

http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodpioneer.html

Medieval Life

http://www.historyonthenet.com/Medieval_Life/medievallifemain.htm

Flappers in the Roaring Twenties

http://history1900s.about.com/od/1920s/a/flappers.htm

Inventions Timeline

http://www.history-timelines.org.uk/events-timelines/09-inventions-timeline.htm

A History of Women’s Underwear

http://www.localhistories.org/womenund.html

Cowboys

http://www.freewebs.com/wyomingwild/cowboyhistory.htm

Slavery in America

http://www.history.com/topics/slavery

Biblical Names

http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/biblical

Tudor History

http://www.tudorhistory.org/

World War II Timeline

http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007306

  1. February 3rd, 2013 at 00:57 | #1

    A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S UNDERWEAR? Yeesh. Comes in a plain brown wrapper and always on hold at the local library. Well, I’ll add WORD MENU as a reference book, and anything with a good historical timeline in it.

    Great metaphor – jigsaw puzzles. There certainly is that aspect in writing a novel, i.e. collect, sort, build. And your key point could save a lot of writers from spraining their brains going through intellectual hoops with their research. History is often consensus reporting. There are facts – things and events – but then there are the interpretations and the guesswork between the lines. It’s all valid fodder for fiction, as you imply. Permit me to observe that a hallmark of your excellent writing is that while you focus on compelling character stories, a reader can always trust that your background details are authentic to a fault. And you find the goodies in those historical flourishes, whether it’s a poetic colloquialism, an eccentric setting, or an intriguing plumb bob with a Forrest Gump sidebar on the end of a silver watch.

  2. Robert Jones
    February 3rd, 2013 at 12:34 | #2

    Thank you for your welcome comments. Kindly accept my regrets that my last essay interfered with your sleep. Writing about items in the field of forensics limits material that makes for light, pleasant reading. In each piece, I try to find a place or two where I can slip in some humor, but such places are not abundant.

    After reading your “squiggly” piece, its style left me with the feeling that we had just had a warm, friendly chat. Very nicely done.

    I second and third your advice about the importance of checking sources. I try to find at least three that agree. Especially if researching the internet, I also check when and by whom pieces were written. In rapidly-progressing technical fields, what was true one day might not be true the next day. Also, since anyone can post on the internet, accuracy cannot be assumed.

    Your practice of sorting related elements into separate piles can be quite effective. When my writing doesn’t simply flow, I assign numbers to pieces that are about the same subjects and gather them into groups bearing the same numbers. I then weave them into a fabric in the smoothest and most effective order.

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