Monday, December 5, 2011

Real Writing for Real Places

"Making Your Fictional Settings Authentic: Fact-Checking Setting and Characterization" by Dennis E. Hensley caught my eye in the November-December issue of Writers' Journal. I love to use real places in my stories, and I always research them as thoroughly as I can. I usually have to do my research online, but Mr. Hensley offers some valuable suggestions if one is able to visit the setting.

Pay attention to:
  • clothing worn
  • food eaten
  • architecture
  • how the people talk, including expressions unique to the area
  • the history found in museums 
For one novel, I carefully researched restaurants (down to their menus), hotels (and their amenties), and points of interest in a specific place. After the book came out, I had more than a few moments of anxiety for reasons I won't go into, but the bottom line was, What if someone reads about a business and, in this age of lawsuit lunacy, decides to sue me for daring to use their name? I did more research and discovered that such a fate wasn't likely--especially if only positive comments are made. I mean, what business wouldn't welcome some great (free!) publicity?

Mr. Hensley goes on to detail how to research a historical setting, including staying true to the customs and mores of the time, the language, and watching out for those pesky anachronisms that tend to crop up. I once used a victrola in a time period when the machine was not yet in use--and had to switch to gramophone instead! (To be completely correct, an anachronism is misplacing something from an earlier time, but it can be used also to indicate general errors in chronology.) Anyway, thank goodness for a sharp editor!

To get the full benefit of the author's advice, you need to read the entire article. It, plus others such as "Creating Round Characters", "Write a Winning Essay," and "Marketing Your Unpublished Book" make this issue of Writers' Journal one to look for in your library, on the newsstand, or even order from the publisher since it's probably already a back issue.

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A.D. said...

Gosh, this is all so true. When writing my book, Loveland, I went out to Colorado and found they had a wonderful museum in Loveland. It proved a great help as they had scenes from the 1880s set up there & I managed to incorporate a number of real tradespeople's names from the period into the book. For my next book which takes place in Texas I'm FIXIN' to go down to Hill Country.

Judy said...

I'm from Texas, too, near the Hill Country, and it's beautiful, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming...fields and fields of bluebonnets and Indian paint brush, brown-eyed Susans, etc.
I really miss seeing all that!