This past fall I took a course at Story Studio Chicago in writing for children and young adults. Writing classes inspire me and motivate me to keep writing as well as teach me about the craft. It was a good class, but not inexpensive. Instead this winter I thought I’d take some one day workshops to keep me motivated.
The Fact in Fiction workshop seemed an obvious choice, since I’m writing a historical novel. I wanted to know how to seamlessly weave research into my fiction. Kelly O’Connor McNees, who ran the workshop, is the author of The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, a fictional novel about a real woman.
Ms. McNees was well prepared, receptive to the attendees questions and had wonderful nuggets of wisdom to pass on during the thursday evening class.
She stressed the importance of using specific details to create an authentic voice, how to balance putting in and leaving out information and the importance of keeping the facts in service to the story.
When she was in school, she told us, teachers always insisted that you “Write what you know”, but with historical fiction it’s different. She likes to change the old adage to “Write what you want to
That rung true to me. My novel is set in ancient egypt and I’ve done lots of research for it. During the course I took last fall, when it was my turn to be critiqued, Molly Backes, the instructor, said that it was obvious that I’d done a ton of research OR I was an egyptologist in a former life. That was good.Ms.McNees listed some things that one might need to research for a historical novel, including thecity, food, clothes, geography, medicine/science, furniture, money, social customs, etc.
We did a couple of writing exercises. First, we created a scene from some excerpts of non fiction books. Then we analyzed some examples of successful (and unsuccessful) historical fiction. All in all an interesting workshop and I'm looking forward to the next one.