Tuesday, February 08, 2011

For Writers - Historical Writing with Marsha Skrypuch

This week's tip is from Marsha Skrypuch, multi-award-winning author of books for children and teens, including STOLEN CHILD, CALL ME ARAM, and DAUGHTER OF WAR. Marsha is known for encouraging other writers. I actually met her online through her gig as the leader of the kidcrit group on the Compuserv Books and Writers' Community. She's been a friend, crit partner, and mentor ever since. Marsha also teaches workshops in her home town of Brantford and all over Canada.

You can find Marsha online on her website, her blog, and by following her on twitter.

Marsha says:
Writing the first draft for historical fiction:

Just last week I finished the companion novel to my 2010 juvenile
historical, Stolen Child. It is called Making Bombs For Hitler and is
scheduled to be published by Scholastic in 2012. Writing it took four
intense months.


Do preliminary research of the era you want to write about and try to
imagine yourself living in that time. Non-fiction children's books are a
great preliminary research tool. Also encyclopedias and textbooks. At
this stage you just want to gather enough background to get the general
lay of the land.

In order to come up with a premise for a novel, ask yourself: What would
happen if...

Think in terms of a dilemma for a person in your historical era.

As an example, for my 2008 Armenian genocide novel Daughter of War, the
question was: If you were pregnant by rape but survived a genocide,
would you want your fiance to find you?

If you can't boil your novel idea down into a question like that, it's
too unwieldy a concept.

Do an outline. I hate outlines, but it is amazing what you can
pre-organize by doing a one or two page point form plotting of your
entire novel.

Try writing a sample chapter or two. This will help you narrow down the
point of view, as well as voice and tone.

After you've done the outline and initial chapters, do more research.

Do read memoirs, diaries, newspaper articles, recordings, interviews,
maps, city directories of your era. Look at photographs. If people are
still alive, talk to them.

Do not read novels set during your era. If you do that, you may
unconsciously pick up inaccurate bits, or you could unwittingly copy the
author's style or turns of phrase.

Try to get opposing points of view of the same situation. As an example,
when I was researching Daughter of War, I consulted both Armenian and
Turkish memoirs, as well as those of missionaries and medical personnel
of the time. Inter-library loan and abebooks.com are great resources for
this sort of item.

Over-researching is great procrastination technique. Not only do you
waste time, but you'll also be tempted to use everything you learn,
which makes for a very boring novel.

I like to do commando research -- ie -- only as much as I'll need for
the next 20 pages or so. When I dry out, I do more.

Now start writing!

Think in terms of scenes. You don't have to write the story in order. I
like to start with the scene that is most vivid in my imagination. As I
write each scene, I decide whether it comes before or after that first
one. As the writing continues, the story develops like raindrops forming
a puddle. Don't worry about sticking to your outline. Let your
characters take you to new places.

Goal one is to get the first draft finished.

Set yourself a schedule. It might be to write one new page a day, or
maybe to write just one new paragraph a day. I like to write one scene a
day. Butt in chair (or feet under tread desk) and get those words out.
Don't get up (or get off) til your goal is achieved.

Don't give in to excuses. The most lame one is that you're too busy to
write. Writing can be done in a steno pad while waiting in line at the
grocery store or watching your kids play baseball, or on the subway. My
favourite writing place is at an airport.

Do not keep going back to page one in an attempt to make it perfect.
That is just a procrastination technique. First drafts aren't supposed
to be perfect.

Once you finish your first draft reward yourself!

It is a huge achievement to be able to write The End. Go to the movies,
Eat chocolate. Drink wine.

Let that first draft cool off for a couple of days before looking at it
again. Once you've given your brain a chance to clear, print your draft
and read it aloud, carefully, a few pages at a time. You will be amazed
at what you can catch when you speak your words and read them on paper
instead of the screen.

There are many more steps to revision, but that's another post.

This Week's Link Roundup:

Revise without Compromise (Writer Unboxed)

Avoiding the Bite of Revision (Paranormal POV)

The Process of Revision (SCBWI Blog)

Rough Draft Triage (League of Extraordinary Writers)

Ten Tips for Taming a To-do List (Tawna Fenske)

Eight Rules That Aren't Necessarily True (The Literary Lab)

Five Rules You Should Break (Victoria Nixon)

Four Writers' Master Skills (James Killick)

Four Levels of Transition (Mary Carroll Moore)

The Dreaded Synopsis (Genreality)

How to Avoid Head-hopping (JamiGold)

Character Choices That Matter (The Other Side of the Story)

Depth of Character (Writer Unboxed)

Complete Characters (Paranormal POV)

Perfect Stories - Veronica Mars (Kiersten Writes)

**Layering Conflict (Anna Staniszewski)

Dramatic vs. Melodramatic (Julie Musil)

Emotions and Writing (Help! I Need a Publisher!)

The Heart of Writing (Penniless Writer)

Sound Effects in Writing (NouveauWriter)

Processes and Page Counts (Genreality)

Weekly plug for next month's Mystery Writing online workshop: (CRW)

Now go! Write!