Here’s what I’ve decided it’s like to write historical fiction.
You go along, sort of researching and writing together, at slightly more than a snail’s pace–or so it feels. So you put the researching aside for a while, because you want to just GO for that flow-of-words feeling, even when you know the flow is a bit muddy and cluttered. Or really muddy and cluttered. So you take a stab at a few things, concentrate on the story elements of your scenes, versus the true-to-history stuff, and you write. And it feels great–you’re getting to know your characters a bit more, finding a few gems among the garbage, and you’re watching the pages pile up in the old binder.
And then, all of a sudden, you get to a choice. A choice the hero needs to make to take the story in the next direction. And you realize you just do not know enough about what was possible and probably in 1913 Chicago’s public schools for a smart, active lower-middle-class Jewish teenage girl your world. And you feel like if you keep writing, it’s going to be a lot like this:
So you backpedal really fast and save all those scenes you have written on the flash drive, and you hit the books. And you find everything on your shelves that might have the tiniest tidbit of information about 1913 Chicago’s public schools for a smart, active lower-middle-class Jewish teenage girl your world, and you browse the internet for articles and more books, and you probably take a trip down to the big library with access to lots of databases, and you read. And it’s a lot like the writing–much of it muddy and unclear but, hopefully, with a few gems.
And you make a decision (for now) about what your hero could do and what she (for now) will do, and there you are again, back to the writing. So now, it’s more like this:
Although probably not with that much grace and style.
If you need me for the next few days, you know when to find me.