Friday, August 12, 2011
Welcome Guest Blogger Sandra Byrd
by Sandra Byrd
I'm a history lover, an avid reader, and an experienced novelist, so writing books set back in time should be as easy as plucking ripe berries, right? Or so thought I, the inexperienced, fresh-faced new historical novelist, just a few years back. I recently spent some time in my garden pruning my fruiting, fragrant blackberry brambles and it occurred to me that effort was similar to the shaping of my books. Too few historical facts may allow for a clean, straight plot but will leave a book barren of the delights we hope to indulge in when reading stories set in the past. Too many historical facts can overtake the story itself, tangling us in their sweet details, but sometimes losing the plot altogether. Errors in fact or chronology can be herbicides, killing off interest in the work altogether for those readers already well-read in an era. In the interest of helping others cultivate, prune, and order the details, I offer four tips discovered along the path.
1. Read a variety of nonfiction sources before beginning your work. You'll naturally gravitate toward biographers who view your subject in the same light you do, but some of the best facts might be gleaned from those viewing your historical character from the opposite point of view. When writing my book, To Die For, I relied on Eric Ives as Anne Boleyn's principle biographer. He, like I, took an honest but sympathetic view of Anne. I also looked at historians who viewed her in a less lovely light. This helped me to get a well-rounded picture of her as well as understand the points of view of those readers who didn't hold Anne in affection. If I were to win them over with my fiction, I'd need to address their presuppositions and concerns head on.
I also relied on books long out of print but recently made available in formats pulled together by self publishers and academic articles, most often found on Amazon.com or Alibris.com. I found a 1964 biography on Thomas Wyatt just this way. Local universities will often offer assistance to in securing academic articles through JSTOR if you explain to them what you're doing.
2. Highlight each principle book you read and then place all material on one chronological outline. I often take my research books to an office supply store, have them chop off the spines, and then coil bind the books for me. This makes turning pages to highlight much more comfortable. Afterward, you can type these notes onto a chronological outline, or have an assistant do it for you. When you go to write the book you will have all events that you deemed important (by your highlighting) on one chronological document. Not only will this help you keep your facts straight, the facts themselves will suggest plot and subplots nuances to you. Who doesn't need help with that?
4. Visit virtually. A trip to your locale is wonderful, but if you can't make it there (and even if you do) don't forget some out of the way sources for photos to help you envision your characters' lives. One great source is flickr.com, a compilation of photos by high-quality, amateur photographers. Another source I used was Pictures of England. I contacted some of the photographers afterward to ask permission for the Castles and Palaces page on my website, and they readily agreed. The photos are stunning, better than any commercial ones I've seen, and best of all, they were free!
Win! Please check out my website, then join me on Facebook and twitter (links on site). To win a signed copy of my new book, To Die For, (2 giveaways offered) please sign up to receive my e-postcards and then visit the Castles and Palaces section of my website and tell me which is your favorite photo!
About my new series: A rich alchemy of fact and fiction, the Ladies in Waiting series chronicles the glittering court lives of three Tudor Queens and the women chosen to be their closest friends and companions. Each book envelopes the reader in sweeping romance, heartwarming and heartbreaking circumstances, and heroines who choose lives worth risking all for.