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Writing Historical Stories

By Diana Wallis Taylor

A friend of mine who took a hiatus from writing due to health concerns, went to lunch with me and said she felt God was leading her to write again. She wanted to talk about writing about her grandmother who came from Ireland possibly as a mail order bride. She wanted to know how I went about writing historical stories.

We talked about organizing to write historical works and I shared the following:

First, find out all you can about the country you are writing about in the era the story takes place; real or fictional.

Second: what were their houses like? What did they eat? What utensils did they use? What type of clothing did they wear? What were typical expressions in conversation? What mode of transportation did they use? What types of animals were common to where they lived? What were common family names where they lived? Ask questions of things you would want to know in reading this book. Look up foods and find out what a typical meal was like. My readers seem to enjoy reading about the meals. Just make sure the foods chosen are authentic and common to that time and place. Make sure your information is as accurate as possible. I had my Biblical Martha fixing potato latkes and a reader gently informed me that they didn’t have potatoes there at that time.

Third, what other books were written about this person? This era? In my friend’s case she would look up books about Ireland at the time her grandmother lived there. Maybe books written by other young women who had chosen to become mail-order brides. What was the process for a young woman in Ireland who chose to do this?

Fourth, what caused young women at the time to become mail-order brides? Family hardship? Famine? Running away from something or someone?

Fifth, what was America like at that time? What was the procedure for arrival from Ireland? What hardships would she encounter? No doubt at that time she went through Ellis Island. What was her experience with that?

Most importantly, I start a notebook and divide it into sections with tabs for each possible category; food, homes, clothing, transportation etc. especially the names of the characters. It makes an easy reference guide, to keep track of them. It’s frustrating to be working on chapter 20 and have to go back to remember what a character’s name was that appeared in chapter four!

Some writers map out their stories with an outline, or do storyboards, or Randy Ingermanson’s “snowflake method”. Everyone is different. What works for one may not work for another. I write a detailed summary for my editor’s benefit but that is only a basic idea of the story. I have been known to change up the story mid-point or write a different ending!

Before I began to write Biblical Fiction, I was overwhelmed by the idea of looking up all that information. Then I found that the research was really the fun part!

Diana Wallis Taylor, an award-winning author, has published six books of Biblical Fiction and has just completed her seventh. She has written three other books of fiction, a book of poetry and a book on Halloween. Along with her books, her writing has appeared in various compilation books and magazines. Diana recently completed an Easter cantata, “Glorious”, with her fellow collaborator, Carolyn Prentice, who wrote the music. She enjoys speaking and sharing her heart with women of all ages. Diana lives with her husband, Frank, in San Diego, California. Between them they have six grown children and nine grandchildren.

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