I know it’s Monday and I’m pushing it, but I want you to put your thinking cap on and take the following quiz. (I’ll give you the answers in the first paragraph.)
1. Which of the following phrases could you not use in a novel set in 1950?
A. Climb the walls (1970)
B. Down to earth (1930)
C. Knock the socks off (mid 1800’s)
2. In 1881, how might a drowning victim be medically treated?
A. Roll victim over a barrel to expel water from lungs. Give large dose of castor oil.
B. Hold victim up by his heels. Strike firmly on the back. Lie down. Raise and lower arms.
C. Rub victim with flannels dipped in brandy and blow billows into one nostril. Brandy, water and salt, or peppermint may be injected.
3. Which of the following would have some vampire readers screaming, “No way!”
A. Count Dracula once quoted Deut. 12:23 “The blood is the life.”
B. Sunlight always kills a vampire.
C. The most popular vampire in children’s fiction is Bunnicula, a cute rabbit that lives a happy existence as a vegetarian vampire.
4. Which of the following would have a true crime, mystery reader up in arms?
A. The DNA evidence being slipped into plastic bags.
B. Photographs being taken with a digital camera.
C. Many people involved in processing the crime scene.
So how do you think you did? Here are the answers.
- A is correct. “Climb the walls wasn’t popular until 1970. “Down to earth” came to be in 1930, and “knock the socks off” in the mid 1800’s.
- C is correct in 1881, although A and B where things tried in earlier times.
- B is correct. The “fact” that sunlight can kill vampires is a modern invention, probably started in the 1950’s. In Ann Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, sunlight kills vampires, but in the Twilight series it does not.
- All of the above would make a crime writer cringe. DNA evidence can deteriorate in plastic bags, digital photos can be altered and so are never used at crime scenes, and the number of people involved are always kept to a minimum.
Now that you are feeling much smarter, you probably want to know why I gave you this little impromptu quiz. All of these questions require research. Whether a person is writing a historical novel, a sci-fi novel, contemporary, or a mystery, research is a must.
Good research makes a story ring true and deepens the characters. For the next two weeks, the Inksters will be talking about research. We Inksters will discuss why good research is so important, how it applies to our writing, what research we have had to do, and some of our favorite resources.
As a historical fiction writer, I spend a great deal of time doing research. I love it. I can get lost in history books or old newspapers. I can spend half a day trying to find what kind of purse a lady would carry in 1901. But it becomes almost a treasure hunt for me and I truly love it.
I end up looking up things like can you “make a made rush” in 1850? Or “make a beeline for” the dessert table at the turn of the century? I look up how fast a horse can trot pulling a carriage, how fast a streetcar travels, and how long a journey takes by train. I spent a day discovering how high the pitchers mound was in 1901. Answer? As high as the pitcher wanted. Currently, I’m becoming an expert on early roller coasters.
Being a historical writer means you have to be a stickler for details. Here are a few of the areas I try to be extra cautious in:
Clothing: Styles change a great deal from year to year. For women, this often is shown in sleeve styles and hats. Clothing also varies for social class and age. A study of old photographs show a younger woman will always try to be more contemporary and older women tend to wear styles a few years older. One of my favorite sources is actually a website that tries to date old photographs.
Words and phrases: Language is constantly changing. Phrases that weren’t around ten years ago are common place today. Think about these terms: Twitter, Facebook, Red Box, and iPad. Those same things occurred in decades before us. Sometimes these words and phrases are hard to catch. As I type and look them up, I put the date in brackets beside the word. Still, I’m always shocked at the ones my editor catches at the end!
In Making Waves, one of the words I missed was “tizzy.” Who would have thought “tizzy” wasn’t around until 1935? I think I get in trouble most with words from the 20’s and 30’s. Because they sound old, and my grandma used them, I just don’t think to look them up.
My two main language sources are Merriam-Websters and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.
Locations: People know their cities, so if I use a street name or store, I work to make sure names are correct, directions are right, and the stores were around then. The same goes for the facts about an area. This was easier for Making Waves, because I live in the area. When I talk about black squirrels, I know we have them.
Details: This is probably the hardest to nail down. Details make or break a story. If a reader comes across something they know isn’t true, it stops them cold. In Making Waves, Marguerite learns to sail. I don’t sail, but I read several books on it including “Sailing for Dummies.” I also had a friend who does sail, read the manuscript to make sure I had the details correct. In A Great Catch, Carter is a baseball player. Brenda, who is an avid fan, made sure my innings were in order.
A favorite place to look up details of the day is at Chronicling of America. This is an online source from the Library of Congress. Over a hundred newspapers from across the country have been digitalized. If you start reading them, just be prepared to lose track of time.
Recently, I received my edits back on A Great Catch. Are you ready for one more quiz? Below are a few of the things I missed, but one of my wonderful editors, Jessica Miles, thankfully caught. Put your answers in the responses and we’ll see who guesses the most right.
1. Which of the following words was around in 1901?
2. In 1901, people were most apt to use the King James version of the Bible. Which is not quoted from that translation?
- “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”
- “In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
- “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to wrath.”
3. The year 1901 was Carrie Chapman Catt’s ____ year as president of the National Suffrage Association.
4. Which Biblical “H’ name has to do with the Israelites being too busy to rebuild the temple?
Now, no researching. Just guess this time. I’ll post the answers later in the day.