Christian ghostwriter · storytelling · writing tips

WRITING THE STORY, PART 1

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be looking at the process of writing a story, from conception to submission. Today, we’ll ask the question, “How does a writer begin a story?” This is, of course, much like asking an artist how he paints what he paints or how she sculpts what she sculpts. Where do songwriters begin—with the music or the lyric? Creativity comes from many sources, and for most writers I know, a story can come from any number of places, with most writers citing more than one, depending upon the story.

 Planning vs. Inspiration 

Birth of IDEA. Concept background.These two concepts are not necessarily mutually exclusive when it comes to storytelling, and for many writers, they often overlap. Writers who write for publications, such as newspapers and magazines, will often be assigned stories, whether nonfiction or fiction. Some writers are particularly good at taking an assigned topic or theme and running with it. Even assigned academic writing can be inspired by personal interest in a related topic. Don’t let the “assignment” get in the way of your creativity!

For me, an assignment is a mixed blessing in both nonfiction and fiction writing. While it can be stifling if the topic really holds no interest for me, it can also open a window to a whole world of interesting research and writing. As a ghostwriter, I’ve often been assigned a topic or scenario. I have ghostwritten a romance series set in a contemporary Old Order Amish community, on the nineteenth century Oregon Trail, and in a fantastical world of shapeshifters—all assigned scenarios for short stories, yes, but I was able to create original characters and plots, letting my imagination free within each assignment.

5183gwhjx6l._sy346_If you are having trouble getting started writing a story, sometimes the best thing to do is to go ahead and assign yourself a general topic or scenario and see where it takes you. My Cat & Mac Mysteries came from a practical desire to write an e-book series I could quickly put up and sell in Kindle Direct Publishing. I’d never written mysteries before, but my research found the best-selling Kindle e-books were short mysteries written in a series, so that’s what I set out to do. From there I picked a city I knew fairly well and let my imagination run free, writing a single murder mystery which has led to four more episodes and counting. Each new story in the series has required an inspirational spark to get it going, but I’m happily continuing to play in my Cat & Mac universe.

 Places to Start

If you are having difficulty getting started writing stories, search the Internet on “writing prompts.” There are hundreds of them available at any number of Web sites for writers. Do some searching, and “assign” yourself a prompt, then let your imagination carry you to wherever it wants to go. Browse through a magazine and study the images. Ignore any captions, and see if you can find a story in any of the pictures you find. I, personally, have written the first 58,000+ words of a novel inspired by a single image I saw on television one evening almost two years ago. The story has a long way to go, but that image remains clear in my mind and continues to inspire the story whenever I sit down to work on it.

 Inspiration Is Everywhere

Pure inspiration can come from anything, so go for it! Either think of what you want to write, and keep your eyes open for inspiration, or start exploring the world around you with an eye for story ideas. You can literally start anywhere: a photo, a real-life news story, something you overhear on the bus, a personal experience, a movie, an odd dream . . . the possibilities are endless. The key is to think like a writer, that is to continuously consider the story potential of everyone and everything you encounter.

The next time we’ll look at the importance of identifying the Who? What? When? Where? and Why? of your story.



by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

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Christian ghostwriter · storytelling

END OF THE YEAR/NEW YEAR’S WRITING RESOLUTIONS

Now that I’ve talked about The Power of Story and how research can improve our writing, I’d like to spend some time on the original purpose of this blog: storytelling. But before you can start telling a story, the first question to ask is, “Okay, so what am I going to write?”

lightstock-social-graphic_96173bf1b4 (1)Whether a new writer or one with years of experience, it is always a good idea for us to sit down as the calendar changes over to a new year and ask ourselves, “What do I want to write?” or, more specifically, “What do I want to accomplish with my writing in the coming year?” One of my writing groups decided we were just too busy to have our usual Christmas party this year, so instead we’re planning a New Year’s party for our first meeting of 2019. And we decided at our last meeting that at the party, members will have the opportunity to share their 2019 Writing Resolutions.

Unfinished Business

If you’re like me, you have a whole bunch of writing projects just waiting for your attention. On the back burner, I, myself, have two unfinished novels, a screenplay, and a series of short stories.

The first unfinished novel is the sequel to one of my published books (currently out of print). The sequel now stands at 50 pages and 16,736 words. I stopped writing it back in May because the publisher of the first book went under, and the sequel can’t go anywhere until I figure out what to do with the first book.

I have another novel, which got as far as 168 pages and 58,200 words last February, before I had to abandon it in favor of a paid ghostwriting job that came in. I would dearly love to get back to this book, and completing it would make a terrific goal for 2019.

I also have an e-book mystery series which could really use some new episodes. I published Episodes 1 through 4 individually in Kindle Direct Publishing and then as Volume I in print this past summer. It would be really coo, if I manage to write 4 new episodes and publish Volume II in print by September 2019 in time for our local Writers’ Symposium. The only problem is I’ve only completed Episode #5, and I barely have an idea for Episode #6, so I really have my work cut out for me!

The first project on my to-do list, however, is a screenplay based on that out-of-print novel, since I’d like to sell it as a movie before I republish it as a book. This is my “dream” project, the one that could garner me an agent but also kind of scares me. Is it guaranteed to sell? Absolutely not. But I have learned over the years that if I don’t at least try, I’ll never know what might have been.

Making the Effort

This is a key step for a writer: forget the fear factor and make the effort. I have writing friends who want to write a novel but have never started one, simply because they’re afraid of it. They don’t think they could ever finish it, and even if they did finish the writing, they don’t think anyone would want to publish it. But truly, we won’t know until we try, and even if you never sell the first book you write (I certainly didn’t), even if you don’t self-publish the thing (I haven’t done that either), the experience of actually completing a book-length manuscript is a huge step toward learning and polishing your storytelling craft.

 Identifying Your Writing Goals

So what will your 2019 Writing Resolutions look like? Will you promise yourself you’ll write that first story or article and submit it to a magazine or newspaper or anthology? Is your goal one story? One story a quarter? One story a month? Do you have that novel inside you just waiting to come out? Will you start it? Will your goal be to finish it in 2019? Will you start a blog? An e-book series in Kindle? A regular article submission to your local newspaper? Will you learn new writing software? Learn how to format a book in an old one? Attend a writers’ conference? Join a writers’ group? Whatever you decide, do yourself a favor: write down your goals, and give yourself deadlines. You don’t have to necessarily stick with the list—or the deadlines—but trust me: you will be more likely to complete something if you give yourself a due date.

Here are my own Writing Resolutions for 2019:

1. Complete/submit A Chance for Life screenplay by March 1st;

2. Write and publish 3 more Cat & Mac Mysteries e-books by September 1st; publish Volume II in print by September 15th;

3. Finish the Chance sequel rough draft by December 31st and pursue publishing options for both books.

Big goals? You bet! Will I accomplish every one? Not likely—but then I haven’t lost that 20 pounds, yet, either, and that’s been a New Year’s resolution for the past six years!  Will I be satisfied if I don’t complete the list? Yes . . . as long as I have made some progress on all three projects.

 So what do you want to accomplish as a writer in 2019? You’d best start brainstorming—January 1, 2019, is only a few days away!

The next time we’ll start discussing the process of writing a story.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more.

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian editors · storytelling · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 10

Some Handy Print Resources I Still Use on Occasion.

researchI have spent the last several weeks blogging about doing research online, and while that is certainly where most of my research takes place these days, especially when I’m caught up in writing fictional stories, there remain a number of print resources on my shelf that I continue to use. A few of these I have purchased new over the years, but many of the better titles have been found in library book sales, particularly those following a major weeding of a college or university library collection. I won’t list them all here, but I wanted to give you some good examples, in no particular order of importance.

 Word Dictionaries

I still like to use a print dictionary, because I find browsing through such a resource always snags something I might miss if I simply look up a word in an e-dictionary.

The RandomHouse College Dictionary, Revised Edition (Random House, Inc., 1975): Okay, I’m dating myself, now, but this was the dictionary I used in college the first time around, and while it is over 40 years old, it still allows me to comfortably browse multiple word meanings.

Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction (Jeff Prucher, Ed., Oxford University Press, 2007): If you write science fiction, this is a book for you. When I first became serious about my sci-fi writing, I often found myself wondering if the language I was using was too strongly influenced by Star Trek. This dictionary told me, however, that it was okay to use the word “starship” to describe the interstellar ships in my stories, because the word was first used in a story published in Astounding Stories in December of 1934—in all likelihood, the same place Gene Roddenberry acquired it!

Dictionary of Word Origins: The Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words (John Ayto. Arcade Publishing, Inc., 1990): There is actually a 2011 edition of this title available in Amazon.com today. As I’ve mentioned before, the history of word origins can be particularly important when writing historical fiction. Contemporary jargon does not belong in a historical story, and if you can’t find the history of a word in the free, online edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, you may want to have a copy of this book on the shelf.

Biographical Dictionaries

New biography reference sources rarely include complete lists of historical names you might need if you’re writing in the past, either fiction or nonfiction. The four biographical dictionaries I have were all found in library sales, and while I don’t use them often, I am still glad to keep room for them on my office shelf.

Webster’s American Biographies (1975) and Webster’s New Biographical Dictionary (1988): These books are my first stop when I can’t find someone any other way. The former has expanded articles on 3,000 notable Americans, and the latter provides the “essential information on more than 30,000 deceased men and women from all parts of the world, all eras, and all fields of endeavor.” Like most reference resources, these books provide a place to start if you have a name and nothing else.

The Dictionary of National Biography Founded in 1882 by George Smith: The Concise Dictionary From the Beginnings to 1921 (London: Oxford University Press,1930): This is a historical treasure, which I rarely use but enjoy browsing on occasion. It can also be a fascinating source of historical names. I find myself perusing this volume when I’m looking for interesting names for new characters in one of my books.

Dictionary of Saints (John J. Delaney. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980): Billed as “an up-to-date, easy-to-use compendium of factual information” on 5,000 saints, the entries range from basic facts to column-long articles. This is a very handy reference for those who write anything about Church history, especially if you want to research a less famous saint.

 Quotation Dictionaries

We all like to quote famous people, and while there are a plethora of online sources with quotations, this is one instance where you will want to use a print volume that (a) has some authority and (b) provides the actual source of the quotation. Far too many online writers wrongly quote famous individuals!

Familiar Quotations, Thirteenth Edition(John Bartlett. Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1955): Bartlett is probably the best known collector and publisher of quotation books. This particular collection is organized by both person and topic.

 Timelines

These resources can put any person, place, thing, or event in historical context, making them extremely helpful to historical writers.

The New York Public Library Book of Chronologies (1990): Organized by topic from Explorers and Exploration to Sports, this reference gives limited timelines per heading under subheadings. The section on technology is particularly helpful.

The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events, 3rd Revised Ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1975):  I find this volume more useful for my writing than the above, because this one is organized by year. For each year, significant people, places, and events are given under the headings of History, Politics; Literature, Theater; Religion, Philosophy, Learning; Visual Arts; Music; Science, Technology, and Growth; and Daily Life. So, if you have set your story in 1965, you can look up that year and see what was going on in the world around your story. A revised 2005 edition is available.

 Style Guides

“Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.” When writing for academia or publishing, you do, of course, need to use the writing style guide required by your discipline or a publisher. While I have years of experience writing in MLA Style (Modern Language Association) and APA Style (American Psychological Association) due to my eclectic academic background, these days I stick with the two style guides used and recommended by Christian Editing Services.

The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago: University of Chicago Press): Used by writers, editors, proofreaders, indexers, copywriters, designers, and publishers world-wide, unless someone specifically requires another writing style, I would recommend sticking with Chicago, which is up to its 17th edition now and is available online in both print and ebook format.

The Christian Writer’s Manual of Style, 4th Edition (Zondervan, 2016): This manual fills in all the holes found in Chicago and other style manuals concerning Christian writing. There are simply terms, ideas, and other nuances used by Christians that need clarification for Christian writers.

 Biblical References

Though I value greatly what BibleGateway.com has to offer, sometimes keyword searching in a humongous database just doesn’t work. Simply searching in the wrong Bible translation may make it impossible for you to find a passage you need.

Cruden’s Complete Concordance to the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1949, 1966): Alexander Cruden (1701-1770) has been the standard in English language biblical studies for over 250 years. I found my edition, once again, at a college library used book sale, but this one is still in print and can be found in Amazon as well as Christian book stores everywhere.

The King James Study Bible, 2nd Edition (Thomas Nelson, 2013): Whichever translation you use, be sure to acquire a good study Bible. Thomas Nelson puts out a really good one that includes multiple topical indices, references (color maps; monies, weights, and measures; an illustrated Jewish Calendar; etc.), a brief concordance, and footnotes all through.

Whatever you do as a writer, you should never underestimate the usefulness of a print reference book. Looking up facts online might be the quickest way to find needed information, but there’s something to be said for browsing entries in a reference book and the occasional serendipitous encounter with information you didn’t know you needed. As writers, we can never know what we might stumble across along the way.

This completes our series on research. The next time, we’ll look at some New Year’s writing resolutions and how you might go about planning your 2019 at the keyboard.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing ServicesCreating Christian Books for KidsPray for Ministries around the World, and Find Christian Links

Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

storytelling

RESEARCH IS YOUR FRIEND, PART 9

Here are some handy online sources for quick answers and/or direction for further research.

If you are anything like me, there are times when your brain seems to shut down while you’re writing. I lose the best word, or I draw a blank on how to spell the word I want. And yes, my word processor has spell check and a thesaurus, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is that its vocabulary is not the same as mine, so that option is not always there.

Word Definitions

Online Learn or E-book library . Laptop computer with library books. Innovative education and technology. Vector illustration.As I’ve mentioned before, I usually write my contemporary stories with Google maps open, so I can get the names of real streets in a real city and not have my characters driving the wrong way down a one-way street. I also, however, want instant access to online dictionaries and thesauri, because sometimes that’s the only way I can find a word I want to use. A quick search on any word with the word “definition” will find a plethora of dictionaries with definitions. I won’t name them all here, but suffice it to say that most well-known dictionaries have a free online version. I am particularly fond of the Oxford Living Dictionaries because definitions come with word origins, which can come in really handy, especially when you’re writing historical fiction. (Note: If you can get access to a paid subscription to any of these online dictionaries through a local public or university library, they are far superior in every way to the free versions.)

Statistical Reference

If you’re looking for statistics, U.S. federal government resources are a great place to start. To find U.S. Federal Statistical Agencies, U.S. State Labor Market Information Agencies, International Statistical Organizations, and National Statistical Agencies of Other Countries, simply go to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and browse the literally hundreds of available links. Other useful U.S. government sites I regularly use include the Library of Congress, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and The World Factbook.

Biblical Reference

One of the best resources for the Holy Bible is BibleGateway, where you can find translations in over 60 languages, many of which have multiple translations, including almost 60 different translations in English alone. This database is searchable by keyword, passage, or topic and allows you to quickly move from translation to translation for comparisons.

General Reference

Like the dictionaries mentioned above, most major encyclopedia have online versions now, and several have a free version for the general public (such as Britannica). These are good places to go, if (a) you don’t know enough about a subject to use the right terminology to create an effective search; or (b) you need to find other resources on your topic and want a good bibliography to help you find them.

Finally, I would be remiss in this brief list of resources if I did not mention Wikipedia. Granted, I would never end my research here, because there is sometimes a question of the credibility of the articles found therein—see my ABC’s of Resource Evaluation from October 1—but that doesn’t mean it cannot, like other encyclopedias, be a good place to start.

A perfect example of this happened at the reference desk where I used to work. I had a student looking for information on sporks—those spoon/fork combination utensils.  Well, I looked everywhere in our print reference resources and used every term I could think of to find it in an index somewhere, but finally stumped, I went to Google. Wikipedia came up first, but my student said, “My professor won’t let us use Wikipedia.” I told her I understood why, but then I took her into the Wikipedia article anyway, explaining that she wouldn’t need to cite Wikipedia because I was just looking for a bibliography to see what the article’s author used for sources.

Bingo! The article not only gave us a general history of sporks, starting in the early twentieth century, but also provided the patent numbers and a link to the United States Patent and Trademark Office! So, thanks to Wikipedia, my student had access to primary documentation to use for her speech on sporks, proving that while Wikipedia may not be the best resource to quote, you can, nevertheless, find useful information to take you to resources you will want to quote.

The next time, we’ll look at some print resources I still use regularly.

storytelling · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 8

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Sources

Details - letters written in beautiful boxes on white backgroundAdding details to your fictional scenes can take time to research, but it can be well worth your efforts. Curious about what your characters would pay for lunch at a restaurant in the 1940s? A search online finds a 1943 Harvey House menu listing Roast Long Island Duckling, Special Dressing, Spiced Crab Apple with sides of Candied Yam, Vegetable, Salad, Rolls, and Sherbet for . . . $1.25. (Wow!) Four years later, your characters might board a train in San Francisco at 7:00 Sunday evening headed for Washington, D.C.—but don’t make them in too much of a hurry, because they won’t arrive in Washington until 7:30 a.m. Thursday morning according to the 1947 Through Coast to Coast Pullman Service schedule. And if your character is in orbit, how will she brush her teeth in the morning? NASA’s A Day in the Life Aboard the International Space Station would have that information—and a video to go with it.

Sprinkling your fiction with fact can make your story come alive for the reader, and there is no better place to find the facts than in primary sources. But just what is meant by a “primary” source?

Primary vs. Secondary vs. Tertiary Documents . . . and Accuracy

In my days as a librarian, I helped a lot of students find primary documents for their research, but they are really not as scary as they may sound to the uninitiated, particularly now that we have the Internet. A document is a primary source if it is written and/or published by the person who was there at the time the content was created. For example, I found the menu and price above online off the scanned image of a 1943 Harvey House menu. I also found online the original Pullman timetable from 1947, which would have been the actual timetable used by travelers in 1947. Diaries, journals, menus, timetables, maps; videos of interviews with a veteran, a doctor, or an astronaut—all these would be viewed as primary sources, because your source was there, at that time, doing whatever it is you want your character to do when you want them to do it. The use of primary sources allows you to know exactly what it was like, what happened, as told by a witness to an event or action.

Secondary sources are written by writers who have done research using the primary documents. Secondary sources can be easier to get, they can have the added benefit of additional commentary to help clarify the information, and generally they will be easier to read. A “tertiary” document is a piece written using secondary documents for information sources, rather than digging into the primary sources.

For example, an actual scientific psychological study published in a scholarly journal would be a primary document. It will also be challenging for a layperson to read and understand. But an article from a professional, subject-specific journal, such as Psychology Today, will both make the information comprehensible to the average reader and add a plain-language “translation” of the scientific data. The writer of this secondary article used the primary source—the study presented in the scholarly journal—as the foundation for his article, lending it credibility. For a popular article on the same subject—such as found in a newspaper or general-reader magazine—a writer will usually go to the secondary source, because the “translation” of the data will have already been done, making the writing of the popular article much easier. Less useful to us would be an article or paper for which the writer depended entirely on the tertiary source, and so on.

The problem for us as storytellers is that with each level of separation from the primary source comes more commentary and bias to muddy up the facts, and if we are not familiar with the topic, we could get something wrong simply because we relied on the writer of a tertiary source for our information. (See my October 9th comment on depending on Hollywood for our information.) Will this be a problem for our story? It depends entirely upon our readers’ knowledge base, but since we can’t know who is reading our stories, I think it is important to get our facts as close to the truth—the primary source—as possible, because that “suspension of disbelief” we fiction writers depend upon requires it.

Video Sources—The Ultimate Primary Sources for “Show, Don’t Tell” 

Today’s storytellers are so lucky when it comes to digital resources. Forty years ago, a character in one of our stories might have been present for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, or perhaps she’s standing in the crowd as Hitler admonished his people to go to war, and we would have needed to find a film library with a copy of the film in order to describe it accurately. Today, we can simply go to the Internet and search for videos, so we can hear these speeches for ourselves, see the crowds, witness their reactions to the speeches.

And videos are the ultimate resource for that “show, don’t tell” admonition for our fiction. Say you have an elderly man who wants to connect with his young grandson by building something together. You have only to search the Internet for videos on building a tree house, or a bird house, or maybe a soapbox derby car to learn how it’s done. Watch multiple videos, and write what you see. Add in your own characters and fictional scene details and voila!  The scene will practically write itself!

The next time, we’ll look at types of online resources, when you might want to use them, and how to use them effectively.

storytelling · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 7

The Details That Help Build a Story: Time-sensitive topics—legal, medical, and technical stuff.

researchThere are some details you simply have to get right when you’re writing fiction in order to keep your readers engaged in your story. That does not mean you need to become a legal scholar, a medical doctor, or a computer geek in order to include such things in your story—you are, after all, writing fiction—but it does mean you need to get the obvious things right, or at least close enough to right so only a licensed attorney, an M.D., or a computer geek will notice where you come up short. (And if you are any of those things, your story will be much easier to write!)

 All three of these general areas are what librarians call “time-sensitive.” That is, if your story requires current information—or information from a specific historic period—then you need to be doubly aware of the publication date of the resource you use. Like those nineteenth-century matches I mentioned in my last post, you need to know via your research whether something in your story is possible during the time period during which your story takes place.

 But it’s more than just “getting it right” when it comes to research and fiction. Doing your research can also enrich your story in significant ways. For example, in my novel, A Chance For Life, there is an embittered woman with an unwanted pregnancy who wants to force my protagonist to adopt her unborn baby. She wants the adoption all signed, sealed, and delivered before the baby comes, so I had to do a little research to be certain this was even possible. It turned out there is no state that allows the birth mother to sign over her baby until after the baby is actually born, and the time varies between state jurisdictions from just after birth to several weeks or even months. So my fictitious New England town was moved to Maryland, where the papers could be signed as soon as the baby was born. I also learned while adoption laws vary, every state requires an official interview with the prospective parent(s). This is where I hit the jackpot, because I found an online resource that not only explained the interview process and cost but also provided the actual questions asked during the interview. Using this list made the writing of this scene the easiest in the entire book!

 Medical information can be a bit trickier, if only because pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, and other various entities are out to get your money. Yes, there are a ton of medical resources online, from webMD.com to Healthline.com, but you will also find articles by physicians warning against using these sources exclusively, either because they are inaccurate or because they are simply incomplete. In my mind, a writer’s best bet is to “get a second opinion,” either from another general medical website or from a hospital. And if your story is entirely dependent upon a medical issue, think about finding a nearby university library where you can do scholarly research on a given topic—or even find a local doctor or specialist to interview.

 You can often find enough medical information to make your story realistic via a Google search—for example, I was able to find a historical document on the Oregon Trail that gave me information on treating burns back then, which I used in one of my Oregon Trail romances—but do double check any medical information with another source for accuracy.

Technical details, like medical and legal, can trip writers up. Just last week my mom was reading a book set in the early 1800s in which a child was comforted by her Teddy bear. Of course, she might have had a stuffed bear back then, but since Teddy bears were named after Teddy Roosevelt (president from 1901-1909), this early 18th-century child did not have a Teddy bear!

 Communication and transportation are the trickiest when it comes to research and time-sensitivity. I love watching movies in which the characters have to find a pay phone and a nickel—or a dime or a quarter—before they can make a call. Maybe your cop has a pager? Or can she whip out a cell phone? Is it the size of a brick, or is it a tiny flip phone? Do they have to use a key to open the car door, or can they unlock it with a key fob?

 Larry D. Sweazy has recently written a delightful series of books set in the early 1960s about a woman who is a farmer’s wife in North Dakota who also works as a book indexer (See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Seventh Street Books). Here the technology limitations provide a wonderful historical setting for these mysteries, because Marjorie is still using index cards (no computers!), and her telephone interactions with her New York editor are complicated by the fact that though she has a home telephone, she is on a party line! (Those were the days, right?) These technical difficulties prove major impediments to Marjorie, enriching the story’s plot line, but they also add oodles of suspense to the story.

 Just remember to double check the date of your story setting before you have your grandparents meeting their incoming grandchild at the airport—which was a lot easier to do prior to 2001 . . .

Next time we’ll continue by looking at primary documents and other useful resources for enriching your storytelling. 


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 

Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links
Questions? Email karen@ChristianEditingServices.com

Christian ghostwriter · writing tips

Research Is Your Friend, Part 6

The Details That Help Build a Story: Historical Stuff

This is a great time to be a writer of historical fiction because of the mass of historical documents being digitized and put up on the Internet every year. Historical societies, historynational historic sites, associations, colleges and university libraries, museums, and other organizations all seem to be adopting the new technology in order to put their collections online. Some require membership to access, but many of them are free to use by anyone.

One of my personal favorites for American history items is the Library of Congress (www.loc.gov/collections). So much of this rich collection has been digitized, from photographs and documents that go back centuries to audio recordings from as far back as World War I. WARNING: If you are a history buff, you can get lost in these collections and spend hours perusing American History, Performing Arts, War & Military history . . . and so much more.

Another useful tool, the Google Advanced Search (see my October 5 post), can be a big help in locating digitized images of original historical documents. I’ve talked about historical maps before, but there are also early books, diaries, timetables—there doesn’t seem to be any limit to what you can find, if you can build the search to find it.

I once worked as a ghostwriter on a series of Christian romances set on the Oregon Trail between 1836 and 1861. As someone who grew up in Washington State, I knew something about the topic from my school years, but I needed factual details to add realism to my stories. The good news is there are Oregon Trail historic sites all along the 2,200-mile trail, and many of these are digitizing their collections. I was able to find maps of the trail as it developed over the years, railroad maps showing how people traveled from points east to Independence, Missouri, photographs of camps, labeled drawings of  covered wagons, and even the text of a nineteenth century Oregon Trail travel guide, which covered what to take and how to pack it, including how many pounds of bacon, flour, coffee, etc., so when my characters headed west, they had what they needed and nothing more.

Another ghostwriting job I did was about a late nineteenth century mail order bride. My client had a city in Colorado she wanted me to use, and she wanted her character to travel there in a specific year by rail. There was only one problem: The Union Pacific went as far as Denver that year, but the line farther south had not been built  yet. How did I know? My research on historic rail lines not only netted me nineteenth century railroad maps showing where they went by decade, it also found another gem: a railroad timetable for just a year before my client wanted her story set. So I not only knew where the railroad went, but I also knew when and where it stopped, how long it took to get from point A to point B, and how my character could connect to a stagecoach line to make that last leg of her journey.

So you can find a treasure among digitized historical documents to help bolster your story, and though you sometimes just need a simple historical fact, however simple an item sounds, as I’ve said before, you still need to get it right, or you will lose your audience. For example, one of my science fiction novels is about a pilot from a Commonwealth of Planets who crash lands in the Sierra Nevada in 1873. The first half of the book reads like a time travel story, as my character struggles to fit in on primitive Earth. Historical research was necessary to keep the setting realistic. For example, did they have matches in 1873? Yes, they had been invented, but no, they would not have been using them yet in the American West, so as I edited my first draft, I replaced matches with flint and steel.

Language, especially, can be tricky. I don’t know anything that turns me off faster from a historical novel or movie than the characters speaking modern American English. If you have a word that is either slang or has to do with technology, be sure to look it up! For example, a quick plain-language Google search o, “When was the word gadget first used?” finds the word is a late nineteenth century (1884) nautical term from the French word gâche. So my 1873 characters do not use it—at least not until they leave Earth and return to the Commonwealth!

The old adage, “never assume,” is never more true than when dealing with historical information, and as was true with the cultural stuff, don’t depend on Hollywood to teach you what you need to know about an unfamiliar historical period.  For example, though the prairie schooners used on the Oregon Trail were built by the Conestoga Company, they were not “Conestoga wagons,” which were much larger and heavier freight wagons that proved too heavy for the rugged Oregon Trail. And despite what you see in the movies, most pioneers used oxen to pull their wagons, not the more romantic horses or even mules, because (1) oxen could survive on poorer feed; (2) oxen could travel farther in a day than horses; and (3) the natives were less apt to try to steal oxen. So I hitched oxen to all the covered wagons in all four of my Oregon Trail stories!

Next time we’ll continue by looking at online resources for time-sensitive topics: the legal, medical, and technical stuff.


by Laura Ewald, CES Editor and Ghostwriter. Looking for a ghostwriter? Laura may be the perfect fit for you. Email us to learn more. 
Please visit our websites: Christian Editing Services and Find Christian Links