Turning Fact into Fiction

research-writing-historical

by Liz Tolsma, @LizTolsma 

Perhaps you hear a fascinating story from a friend or family member. Maybe you read great article in the paper or online. Whatever the case, you’re eager to write the storySince you’re a fiction writer, it will be a novel. Then you realize the amount of research involved, and your first reaction is to run to the hills screaming. You’re not up for this. But the story won’t let you go. So what do you do?

research-writing-historical

Start with your research. Even though you plan to turn history into fiction, the research must be accurate. There are readers out there who know the facts. And if you have them wrong, they’ll let you know. In Snow on the Tulips, I described a Canadian tank rolling through town. I was so proud because I didn’t have to look up what the Canadian flag looked like. My characters cheer for the white flag with the red maple leaf on it. Not too long after the release, I received a flurry of emails from Canadians. That flag wasn’t adopted until years after World War II. Pride goeth before a fall.

If possible, make sure you have three sources for each historical detail you include. Hint: Wikipedia doesn’t count as a source. You may have to scour the Internet, the library, Amazon, and every nook and cranny, but check and double check those facts. For example, you’d be surprised at how many quotes credited to Winston Churchill aren’t his words.

I’m fortunate to write World War II fiction, because some of the players in these stories are still alive. I’ve been privileged to interview some who survived these horrible events. There is nothing like a firsthand account. Of course, if you are writing anything much older than World War II, personal interviews are impossible. But if you can lay your hands on a diary or a journal written near the time of the events, it’s the second-best thing. After a while, people’s memories fade, and stories change.

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Don’t forget about the little details such as the Canadian flag on the tank. When I went back and scanned pictures of Canadian tanks in the Netherlands, I discovered they didn’t fly a flag. The small facts can make or break your story. They make the words you write believable and transport your readers to that era and place. Take your time, and make the little things right.

How much of the actual events do you change? The answer varies. Is the event historically significant? You can’t change the date of the Declaration of Independence, but you could change the date of an execution, as I did in Snow on the Tulips. Can you make the story fit into your novel? In Daisies Are Forever, I started with the notion that the hero would be an American pilot held in a POW camp, and that the heroine would be fleeing from East Prussia. The problem was, there were no American POW camps in East Prussia, and I was left with no way for the hero and heroine to meet. I had to change my hero to an English pilot.

What about using recognizable, historical characters? That’s a delicate situation. If you’re writing a book in which Abraham Lincoln makes an appearance, you need to keep him true to his personality, even if you are making up the situation and the dialogue. Also, would the historical characters have been in that time and place? Abraham Lincoln never visited Paris, so you can’t have your characters meet him there. And make sure it is reasonable that the historical character would have met and interacted with your fictional characters. I’m never going to meet the president in the oval office. I’m not important enough and haven’t done anything worthy enough. But if I was a basketball player on an NBA championship team, it is reasonable to suppose I will meet the president.

There are times when research simply fails you. In both the Melody of the Soul and in my next novel, When the Heart Sings, I found that discovering the details surrounding the stories I was fictionalizing were impossible to come by because Czechoslovakia and Poland suffered under postwar communist regimes. Many of the written accounts were lost, and the events were not spoken of. I managed to finagle some of the details, because they weren’t that important to the story. With others, I was forced to create fictional places because I couldn’t find enough information to bring the true place to life. And in the end, I always beg the readers’ forgiveness, because mistakes are inevitable.

Taking real people, places, and events and turning them into novels can be a daunting task. You must love research if you want to do it right. But there is nothing more satisfying than bringing a long-forgotten story to the page and memorializing it. I love getting emails from people in the know telling me my research was spot on. What an amazing privilege to share someone’s story with the world.

Read More Writing Tips

Numbering Your Days with One Word by  Beth K. Vogt

How Christian is Your Fiction? by Dan Walsh

How to Show and When to Tell by Susan May Warren


The Melody of the Soul

Anna has one chance for survival—and it lies in the hands of her mortal enemy.

It’s 1943 and Anna Zadok, a Jewish Christian living in Prague, has lost nearly everything. Most of her family has been deported, and the Nazi occupation ended her career as a concert violinist. Now Anna is left to care for her grandmother, and she’ll do anything to keep her safe—a job that gets much harder when Nazi officer Horst Engel is quartered in the flat below them.

Though musical instruments have been declared illegal, Anna defiantly continues to play the violin. But Horst, dissatisfied with German ideology, enjoys her soothing music. When Anna and her grandmother face deportation, Horst risks everything to protect them.

Anna finds herself falling in love with the handsome officer and his brave heart. But what he reveals might stop the music forever.

Best-selling novelist Liz Tolsma is the author of several World War II novels and prairie romance novellas. She also works as a freelance editor. She lives in a semirural area of Wisconsin with her husband and two daughters. Her son serves with the US Marines. All of their chidlren came to them through international adoption. Her other passions include walking, gardening, camping, and reading. Find out more about Liz at http://www.liztolsma.com.

Writing Real Romance

author romance tips

author romance tipsby Elizabeth Ludwig, @ELudwig_Author

My husband, were you to pass him in a dark alley, would probably make you want to cross the street. He’s big, he’s German, he can’t see very well so he squints a lot, he’s usually scruffy and he rides a Harley. He also likes to dress the part, so…are you getting the picture? Yet he’s the sweetest, most romantic guy I know—at least, that’s what he keeps telling me. J

Anyway, I had to have surgery recently. It was very unexpected and SO scary! Fortunately, my dear husband took very good care of me. Every night, he walked me to our room and gently helped me to bed. Because I couldn’t lie back on my own, he’d slip his arms around me and slowly lower me down. So sweet! Then, when I was ready to get up, he’d come and lift me to the floor.

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Now, this is just one way he took care of me. I would fill up an entire page if told you about the meals he cooked, the dishes he washed, and everything else he did. Still, his care for me while I was sick showed me much more than his words ever could how much he loves me. As for me? Well, I fell in love with him all over again!

I think that’s why I write Christian fiction—because I want to translate to readers that this is the kind of love that lasts a lifetime…not the superficial physical attraction so many other books talk about. Most of all, this selfless love is the very thing that our Savior demonstrates toward us. What better kind of love could there be?

What about you? What are some of the romantic things you like to see in books, or real life romance moments you’d like to share?


In The Fullness of Time

With each passing season in their first year of married life, Cheryl and Levi Miller find a fresh set of challenges and adjustments to be made as the Englisher and her Amish farmer husband learn to live together. But by observing their friends and loved ones in the Sugarcreek community, the newlyweds see firsthand how God uses each new phase of life to reveal inspiring insights, spiritual truths, and future surprises…all while they harvest a whole new crop of mysteries as well!

Elizabeth Ludwig is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences where she lectures on crafting effective novel proposals and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Her latest releases include Home Sweet Sugarcreek and A Tempting Taste of Mystery, part of the SUGARCREEK AMISH MYSTERIES series from Guideposts. Along with her husband, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.

Five Things I Relearned to Be A Fiction Writer

by David Rawlings, @DavidJRawlings

When I started writing fiction, I did what everyone does when at the start of a journey.

I looked forward.

With an excited deep breath, I developed my story ideas, built my platform and sought to be inspired by best-selling author blog posts, while dreaming of joining them.

But when I got that one judge’s feedback on my first fiction ACFW competition, I realized I didn’t need to look forward, I needed to look back.

I had been writing professionally for twenty-five years (I’m a freelance journalist and copywriter when I want to get paid for writing) when I felt the nudge to write fiction. I thought it would be an easy transition; an extension of what I was already doing. After all, I’d clocked up thousand-word days for decades.

But while the judge in the Genesis contest loved the story idea and characters, they were politely enquiring as to my grasp of the English language. So why the harsh feedback? With me, writing fiction was a whole different kettle of fish, and that kettle was half-way around the world. That was what the Genesis judge didn’t know – I wasn’t speaking American English because I’m not American.

I’m an Aussie, born in the land of Hugh Jackman and Thor.

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That may not sound like a big deal as our cultures are similar, but my readers spell differently, use grammar differently and have different turns of phrase. While I could write blindfolded, there were ten-year-olds in Boston whose American English was more consistent than mine.

Let me show you what I mean: colour, recognise, finallist. This Australian English spelling has served me well since I was a sports journalist at nineteen, but to my readers’ American eyes they’re mistakes that wouldn’t get me past round one in the Wenatchee School District Spelling Bee.

So I realized I would have to relearn the very skill I’d honed over a career because my new marketplace demanded it. It was like jumping into the driver’s seat after spending years behind the wheel, but needing a driving instructor because now I was driving on the other side of the road.

I needed to do more than just type with an American accent. There were five things I needed to relearn, and I’ve found that other authors have had to relearn them as well.  This might be your experience too.

  1. Unlearning some of what you’ve learned. I once had an English teacher who claimed Shakespeare was the pinnacle of great writing and all fiction should aspire to follow the Bard. That’s just not true. I truly admire Shakespeare’s turns of phrase and mastery of language, but I’m writing contemporary fiction, which requires different structure and different pacing. “Out damn spot!” would only work if my antagonist had a naughty dog and liked cussing.Another teacher taught us to be as descriptive as possible, even if it took pages to paint a picture, and demanded ten variations of the word “said” in every piece. Again, not useful for my genre and I don’t even use those tags anymore. The key to unlearning was a shift in focus towards what my potential readers want and away from some kind of English Literature professor ideal.
  2. Cherrypicking the best knowledge from school. There are some things that haven’t changed from high school English – the basics of grammar, spelling, and style. I scoffed at our journalism professor when he held up a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style back in 1990 and told us we’d need this for the rest of our lives. He was right, only for me, it has taken on greater significance. I need it for a writing career of a different kind, and I’m glad I kept the book. But the biggest lesson was one I learned on day one of my journalism studies: know your audience. That advice is very relevant now. What they think matters and a focus on them is absolutely critical when producing a story that captivates them from the front-of-book dedication to the epilogue.
  3. Unlearning what you’ve picked up along the way. Sometimes you have to unravel the lessons picked up in the workplace. If you’ve written in business, you would have adopted business writing style or had any creativity beaten out of you with the constant “that’s just how we write things here around here!” I’ve had to do this based on my work in the corporate world, where some clients have a style which tempts me to break rules I once held as sacrosanct. Deprogramming takes a while, and means when you get serious about fiction, you need to …
  4. Learn to care again. One of the issues I find with writing today is the sacrifice of quality for speed. I run corporate workshops about writing and run headlong into this belief that good writing is an optional extra; the fact it was written was enough for the box to be ticked. Why it matters has been lost due to the choking grip of time. I found when I changed gear to fiction that I needed to care again about getting it right – that my half-thought-out 11p.m. tweet dropped into the rushing rapids of social media wasn’t good enough.The corners I had cut to keep clients happy needed to be stuck back on. I had to remember my first love for language, and realize that it mattered, even if it did add some time to the process.
  5. Going against the flow. Life wants you to do things faster. Social media demands responses in an instant. I’ve spent a career meeting deadlines that pop up like targets on a shooting range, but I had to rethink my approach to time. My writing requires the exact opposite of a fast-lane mentality. Storylines don’t emerge, they percolate. My characters don’t always leap onto the page, sometimes they distill over two drafts. For my second manuscript, which my agent currently has in front of several publishers, I wrote the opening line last. The hook took that long to come.

The feedback from that judge hurt when I read the scoresheet, but as more water has passed under the bridge and I’ve waded deeper into the waters of fiction writing, I’ve realized just how valuable it has been. It has forced me not to just to rethink but to relearn writing in a way that’s seen my writing develop to a point where it’s on the cusp of fulfilling its potential.

The next year, that same manuscript was a Genesis finalist, and I was on my way. I hope the judge was the same person and noticed the difference.


Based in South Australia, David Rawlings is a sports-mad father-of-three with his own copywriting business who reads everything within an arm’s reach.  He has published in the non-fiction arena and is now focused on writing contemporary Christian stories for those who want to dive deeper into life. His manuscripts have finaled in competitions for ACFW and OCW and he is currently represented by The Steve Laube Agency.

That Time When I Killed My Love For Fiction

by Erica Vetsch, @EricaVetsch

I’m so excited to be blogging at Novel Rocket and getting to know the readers here better. I hope, along the way, we can learn from each other and become friends!

I’ve been writing fiction for…well, if I am honest, for most of my life, though not much of it in the early years ever made it onto a page. I did write a novel in a spiral notebook when I was fifteen—in that loopy, teenaged-girl script—but that story was pretty awful and should stay tucked away into a drawer.

When I first started writing for publication more than a decade ago, I was so green, I didn’t know there even were how-to books on writing, that writing better fiction could be learned, nor that with the burgeoning of the internet, so much instructional information on writing fiction was out there to be discovered.

I thought you just wrote down what you ‘saw’ in your head, and that it would make sense to everyone who read it and that they would love it.

Um. Yeah. Like I said, I was as green as the fairways at Augusta in early April. (For the non-golf fans among us, that super green!)

After my first contest entry results, (YIKES!) I quickly saw there was MUCH I needed to learn, so I dived right in, as I tend to do with most everything in my life. And I nearly drowned myself in information. Every book I found at my local library on how to write fiction, every blog post I read on an author or agent’s site, every workshop I attended or listened to online seemed to have a different slant, or view, or method of writing fiction.

Scrivener, snowflake, three-act structure. Plotting, pantsing, moral premise. Character first, plot first. Write from the middle, write from the end, write linear, write in layers. The hero’s journey, the LINDY-HOP, the Break-out Novel, a Novel in 30 Days, NaNoWriMo, and so many more.  All this information was coming from successful novelists, so they must be right…right?

I’ll admit I became paralyzed by the multitude of opinions and options available. Which one was right, since it was clearly impossible to incorporate them all? Where should I place my focus? The target seemed elusive and mobile. What even defined ‘Good Fiction’?

The more I tried all these methods, the more convinced I became that I was a terrible writer.  I no longer wrote for the joy of telling a story. My writing became academic, stilted, trying to follow everyone else’s methods and roadmaps for their stories.

When I first started writing fiction, I finger painted the words on the page for the sheer thrill of relating the vivid images in my head. The longer I studied how to write, the more my writing became ‘paint-by-number,’ filling in the prescribed areas with the prescribed colors, turning out a product that looked like the picture on the box, and had very little to do with the story in my head and heart.

My reading also suffered. I went from being a heart-in-my-throat-can’t-wait-to-turn-the-next-page-stay-up-all-night-three-books-a-week reader to a clinical, blue-pencil-wielding editor of every book I picked up. I began to notice every time a ‘rule’ was being broken, every time someone head-hopped or went overboard on description or started a scene with a dream or split an infinitive. There was no pleasure in reading because I couldn’t focus on the story. I could only see the possible method the author used to get there…or didn’t use, since they were clearly breaking one of those ‘rules’ I had so recently learned.

I began to wonder if I had ruined storytelling for myself. How could I rediscover the joy of both writing and reading if neither one was fun? If every time I picked up a book or sat down at the computer, all I could hear were the experts telling me how to do it?

I had to turn off the noise.

Not that it was easy. Well, putting away the how-to books was easy, but subduing the writer’s doubt that had risen up to swamp my enjoyment of writing was terribly difficult to accomplish.

I started with a new story idea, and every time I was tempted to criticize myself, I shut that down with the promise that anything I was doing ‘wrong’ now, I could put ‘right’ later. I reminded myself that I couldn’t edit a blank page, and that getting the words out was the most important thing. I told myself I had to trust my instincts, that I didn’t need to know the reasons why I was writing something the way that I was…I could figure that out later. And I told myself I was discovering my own method of writing a novel, which would be different from anyone else’s.

And to my amazement, my ‘discovery draft’ fell out of my head in just about five weeks. I lived that story, both when I was sitting at the computer to write it, and when I was away from the screen, letting the scenes and characters and events scroll through my head.

I was excited to write!

When I typed THE END, I knew there was still work to do, things to tidy up, but now, I could enjoy that as a separate process from the story-telling. I had broken through!

My joy of reading returned. I was less critical of other authors and less critical of myself. Because I realized that my process was my own, and that my process wouldn’t be static. My way of writing a novel, while largely solidified after more than thirty published works of fiction, is still changing and growing. And it is unlike any other. I could now go back to all those writing how-to book and glean what I found helpful and discard the rest. I could experiment with those methods while not shackling myself to them. I was free!

So, if you’re struggling with all the information put forth by authors, agents, publishers, creative fiction professors, et. al, or if you feel as if you’re not doing it ‘right’ when it comes to writing fiction, here’s my advice.

Relax.

Preach some truth to yourself. All those rules and processes and ways to do things? They’re like the pirate code. They’re guidelines. Suggestions, really. They are someone else’s way of getting the story in their head onto the page.

Write your story. Write it the way you write. If you like to plot, then plot it! If you like to free-wheel it, then dive in and see where the story takes you. If you like first person, third person, past, present, or whatever, write that way. You can clean up the story afterwards, shine it up, edit it, and if you’ve broken a rule or two, decide if you did it on purpose or if it needs to be tidied up.

The more you write, the better you will hone your instincts, and the less editing you will need to do later, but if you’re just starting out, and you’ve gorged on all the ‘how-to’ books you can stand, it’s time to put them away and just WRITE!

TWEETABLES

That Time When I Killed My Love For Fiction @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

Has learning how to write killed your love of writing? @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

Learning to love fiction all over again. @EricaVetsch on @NovelRocket #writing http://bit.ly/2wqSq6C

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 My Heart Belongs in Fort Bliss, TX

Fashion artist Priscilla Hutchens has a grudge against the army that has ruined her family and taken the people she holds most dear. When her twin niece and nephew are left orphaned at Fort Bliss, Texas, she swoops down on Fort Bliss to gain custody of them immediately.

There is just one thing standing in the way—Post surgeon Major Elliot Ryder, who is also the twins uncle, also claims the children and thinks he knows what is best for them.

Priscilla and Elliot will cross swords, but each will have to lay down arms if they are to find a lasting peace on which to form the family both are longing for. Who will win the battle? Or will a truce be called for the sake of love and family?

ERICA VETSCH can’t get enough of history, whether it’s reading, writing, or visiting historical sites. She’s currently writing another historical romance and plotting which history museum to conquer next! You can find her online at www.ericavetsch.com and on her Facebook Page where she spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME! www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/