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Explore and Advance

The writer is an explorer. Every step is an advance into a new land. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

One challenge to overcome in writing fiction (historical in particular) is for the author to put themselves into the world they are writing. It is a multifaceted challenge because it involves not only the geographic locales of the characters but also making yourself susceptible to the experiences of that place; the sights, the sounds, and the emotions evoked by daily life there.

So how does one go about transporting themselves to another place or time to witness the lives of the characters they are documenting? I wish I had a cut-and-dry answer for you all. It is one of those things that I enjoy hearing other authors talk about because everyone develops their own process. As I was writing Dunnigan, I was continually adjusting to the world in which Noah, Sara, Ransom, and the others were living. The adjustments continued from the first word to the last. Even as I was going through the many stages of editing I had to go back and tighten up the story by thinking more seriously about the emotional impact of certain moments. While I cannot provide a magic bullet for the process of world-building and character development, I can share things that helped me travel to Dunnigan, Alabama, 1929.

I have heard it said that historical fiction builds on the labors of non-fiction. Rightly so, because if you’re trying to write in a past time, you must acquire prerequisite knowledge. A sure way to put yourself there is to know what was available, useful, and meaningful to the average person at the time. Early on, a fellow author provided a tip to me, suggesting that a running subscription to would likely be a worthwhile investment. I took that suggestion and found it to be worthwhile indeed. Newspapers from the same time period and region that I built the city of Dunnigan, Alabama gave me an excellent source of informational tidbits. I often read the daily and weekly papers from nearby Cullman, Alabama while drafting the novel.

There is much more that could be said on this subject, especially as it relates to allowing yourself to “feel the feels” during the writing process, but in an effort to keep these blogs short and digestible, I will save some things for a later time. Whether you are a writer or not, every day is a "new land." Is it not? I wish you well as you explore and advance.

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