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Category Archives: Research for fiction

Fiction Setting in past times

The latest Beyond book in the series

The latest Beyond book in the series

Some of us write fiction set in past times. That could be from last year back several decades or centuries. My Beyond stories are set in the late 1990s, so many things were different even back then 17 or 18 years ago.For example, technology could be considered part of setting (think wi-fi availability today in cafes, public transit, and just walking along the street). What we take for granted today, may not have been around back in the days of your novel or short story.

One big setting factor is weather. We can all probably figure out that today’s weather is much more extreme in all ways. There are more floods, tornadoes, heavy snowfalls, etc. And so if you are writing in another time period, you have to be aware what is going on in the weather then. And not in general, but on the days your story takes place and the actual location. That requires some research beyond your memory of back then if you were actually living in that time period. Leave your memory of the weather for your feelings about it when it happened and you might be able to use that in your story. You need to do more concrete research.

If you don’t something like the following could happen.

Supposing you are setting your story in August 2011 in Goderich, Ontario, Canada. You have been there many times in the past, but not since 2010. So, you write your story setting it in August 2011 in Goderich as you remember it with its centre of town set up in a square..

Hold it right here. On August 21, 2011 a big tornado hit Goderich, Ontario causing extensive damage to the downtown square and nearby houses. If you have your characters meeting at one of the shops there or even in a chase through the downtown square on that date or just after, but don’t factor in the tornado, oops.

A tornado can add to the suspense in your story, so consider including it.

But do your research first – online with old news stories.And if you don’t know what the weather was like on certain days of certain years, you can check with weather authorities (such as Environment Canada) for historical weather information about dates in the past. You don’t want to have a blizzard in late November in such-and-such year just north of Toronto when the weather was actually mild for the time and it rained the proverbially buckets.

There are many other time-related issues that factor into setting. I’ll cover a few more of them in a future post, but here’s one to think about and research.

Your characters are eating soup that came out of a can and the year is 1921. Did soup or any other foods come in cans in 1921? You need to do your research. And you can take that food area much further to what people actually ate in the your story’s time period and how they prepared and stored food and where and how they ate.

Setting covers much more than geographic location.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

 

 

 

 

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Using deadlines to write

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Writing deadlines are something journalists, editors, and authors with publishers have to deal with all the time. So does any writer who is writing a piece to enter in a writers’ contest.

But what if you are writing that novel, that short story and at this point have no publishing deadlines? You might think “hey, I have the freedom to take my time writing this story.”

You know how that can go if you are not disciplined. You might write when the  muse hits. You might write if you don’t have something else to do in a certain time. The underlying theme here is “I have all the time in the world to finish this novel, this short story.”

All the time in the world might expand to never finishing.

Why not set a deadline or if a novel, several deadlines, such as “I will finish so many pages, so many chapters by such and such a date.” If  you have an editorial deadline from a magazine editor or book publisher, or a contest, entry, wouldn’t you be working to the deadline? Wouldn’t that include setting up a writing time-line? Allow some flexibility for glitches such as what I’ve been encountering with my latest Beyond mystery book. Research replies. I finally had to go elsewhere for one (books and another police source) and in the case of the government agency with no email reply, I phoned.

Writing they say is1 per cent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration. I have sometimes seen that equation as 10 per cent and 90 per cent. Either way you can get the picture.

Why not use deadlines for the perspiration part? I find doing that has an added benefit than just getting the writing done.

Often when you sit down at your computer in a specified time and write, the inspiration and creativity just kick in and off you go, oblivious to whatever else is going on around you. I’ve been unaware of night creeping in until I realize that it is only the computer screen and the desk lamp lighting everything up. (That’s excluding the creativity going on as I write.)

Speaking of deadlines. Please excuse me while I get back to rewriting my latest Beyond book. My publisher is waiting.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

If you click on the book cover at the top it will take you to my publisher’s page about my books and my background.

 

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More tales from the novel rewriting trenches

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Still working furiously to make changes in my current Beyond book to meet my publisher’s deadline. Making progress, despite distractions and glitches from others.

The research mentioned last week hit some more glitches. The social issue in the new novel (not telling what it is – no spoilers here) ran into the same roadblock with the Ontario government department as the police query with the local police services corporate communications department. No reply.

So, my journalist background came into play here. Journalists don’t give up on their research, despite roadblocks and twists and turns.

The two library books I had looked at in the Toronto Reference Library? Sure, I had made some notes but that wasn’t enough. So I bought the out-of-print one on Canadian Law (it fits the novel’s time period) secondhand from amazon.ca .Counting the day I put in the order online, it took three business days to arrive in my mailbox. The other Canadian Law book – a q and a type with questions for civilians I found out from an editing client that over 20 copies are circulating in Toronto library branches. I put a hold on it and if there are still some other copies not on hold, I should be able to renew my copy three times.

I phoned Service Ontario and after being shunted around three times got a very knowledgeable person in the specific department who answered my questions.

For that one nagging police procedure question that the two books couldn’t answer, I emailed a retired police colleague via Linked In. He replied immediately, answered part of my question and said he would contact one of his police connections to get more of an answer. I gave him my email address to avoid the Linked In quirks in email and he has replied again this week, apologizing for the delay and why (that is his business) and that he would be contacting his colleague that evening.

Meantime, I’m rewriting to get around anything that wasn’t true with the social issue and police procedure back in 1999. And also rewriting to deal with any plot threads left dangling. Some will get deleted as irrelevant.

Also there is the matter of my two main characters, fraternal twin private investigators Dana Bowman and Bast Overture trying to take over the plot. I have to listen to them because they can have good ideas.

And it is their story. Always listen to your characters.

As for the other distractions, I’m trying to rein them in. Personal calls that come during my writing time (which pretty much follows a business weekday give or take a few hours at either end), I will now let them go to voice mail. My dentist appointment will have to be moved to February 29 after my deadline. I have a big problem with medical people who don’t have some evening and weekend hours .I may ‘not be working outside my home, but what about those who do? Why should they have to take time off for dental and other medical appointments, Hey medical professionals. Get with the times. Yes, some professionals (like police, transit drivers, etc.) have work hours all over the map. But many people still work regular business hours (excluding email and social media). Medical clinics understand this and even my optometrist works one evening a week and some Saturdays. My eye specialist doesn’t. My dentist doesn’t. So, unless a medical emergency, I work their times around mine.

I have also worked in editing clients after the end of February and any new inquiries re work, they are being told I am booked up until … Two current clients have been scheduled in after the end of February – it is set up to work for both of us.

Now, back to the novel rewriting. Bast and Dana are waiting impatiently for me to get to it.

Cheers.

Sharon A.Crawford

If you click on the book cover at the top it will take you to my publisher’s page about my books and my background.

 

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Crunch time for publisher’s deadline for novel

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

I am in the last month to finish the rewrite of the third book in my mystery Beyond series before submitting in to my publisher.. Of course, it won’t be the final rewrite. Once a publisher decides to publish a book, the author always has more rewrites.

I have limited my email time – I set a timer and when it rings I finish the current email and the rest can wait for another day. And I am particular which events I go to .

Some of the latter has been railroaded because I also just got yet another sinus infection over the weekend. So the two writing-related workshops I planned to go to, I had to cancel.

And with all my health issues, I am trying to keep medical appointments to one health issue a month. Last summer and fall when all these health issues kept coming and coming, often overlapping, I tried to deal with them all at once, including medical appointments. That caused way too much worry and anxiety and I might have had to add “shrink” to the list.  So, I’m trying the one-at-a-time approach and hope it works. Some of the medical people aren’t too happy about it. Too bad. I am trying to get more sleep to help heal.

But I like to rewrite what I have written. Sometimes the most creative twists in plots and character development occurs here. It is also a time to fix plot and character inconsistencies, get rid of excess and not necessary scenes and even chapters, smooth out the telling – get rid of awkward phrases and sentences, polish it all up. .And do final fact checking on your research.

It is the latter that is driving me crazy. A few new police procedure questions and also questions on the social issue in this novel have come up. And I’m having trouble getting the experts to reply to my emails and phone calls to get some answers.

My police consultant just retired and has moved out of the country. I am grateful for all his help with my other two books and this third book as well. So, I’ve been doing what most authors without police connections do – contact the corporate communications media department of the police services. I have emailed and phoned there and have received no response. It has been a week and a half.

Meantime I visited the Toronto Reference Library and looked at criminal code books from the shelves and stacks. Made notes as those books are not for lending. My book is set in late 1999, which is an added glitch. And did more Internet search.

Also emailed a government department’s service questions part. That was done two days ago and so can’t complain yet about that

I am also rewriting to change parts of the plot to fit in with what my research (at the library and online) has revealed, even to the point where I have a few options for a couple of areas.

But I need some answers.

So, I will try some contacts via Linked In and see where that gets me.

For those of you writing fiction, how do you deal with this type of non-response to your research questions? How do you get your rewriting done to meet your deadlines?

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

If you click on the book cover at the top it will take you to my publisher’s page about my books and my background.

 

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When your research and plot just don’t jibe

Beyond Blood_Final Ebook

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

You are writing what you think is a terrific story. You have done all your research – you think. Then, you find something crucial in your plot just would not happen in real life. You do have some leeway in fantasy and science fiction, but I’m referring to mysteries, romance, historical fiction and other commercial fiction, as well as literary. Let’s say you are writing historical fiction and a real-life character, well-known from the time you are writing in, is a part of your plot – maybe even crucial to the story.

But you goofed. Your story is set in the same time as this historical character lived, but you have just found out in re-checking your research, that no way could your famous historical character be in such and such a place when you have placed him there. At that time, he was living in France and your story takes place in England. You have set your story in the Victorian era, so you can’t just have your character take an airplane from France to England.

What can you do?

Delete this historical character from your story completely? Keep him in, but just as a reference to the times and something in your plot (music, government? Move some of your plot to take place in France? Change the historical time of your plot? Or?

Whatever you choose to do, it will require some re-writing. But you need to be accurate. True, for the purpose of your story, you have some leeway, but you can’t lie about history. If it were me, I would go for moving some of the plot to France, unless I decided this historical character didn’t need to play an active role in your plot.

I don’t write history – exactly. But my Beyond mysteries take place in the late 1990s, although the current one I’m writing just gets into the 21st century. So for police procedure and anything else – such as computers and cell phones, and medical (as there is some of that in the story) have to be what they were like back then. So I have to be careful with all that – including laws and even the names of courts. Gets tricky.

Currently I am fact-checking my research as it is incorporated into the novel. One of the characters suffers from a concussion. Fortunately there is a lot of information about concussions, both on the Internet (I’m referring to respected medical sites such as the Mayo Clinic) and books on the subject because of the current concern about sports-related injuries – many concussions.

The problem here is to make sure what the medical professionals do now was done in 1999. And also my character’s concussion is not from a sports injury.

Fortunately, the books on sports concussions go into details about past diagnoses and treatments. Studies and the like posted on the Internet often have references footnoted by number. (they all should have references), and I can cross-check the dates on those with the information in the study text.)

I also checked to see how the person’s head was “x-rayed” and found that CAT scans were around in 1999 – in fact they started being used widely in 1980. So my character had a CAT scan.

It never hurts to double-check your research. And remember, you may think you have done all your research before you write, but you probably haven’t. As you develop your story, “things” come up that you have to check on.

Now, I have to go back and research something in my novel’s climax for what one character does. What would she be charged with or would she be charged with anything? And in 1999, not 2016.

Back to my police consultant and to the Canadian Criminal Code in 1999. That might mean a copy of the CCC for a year or two before that, unless amendments were made and published in 1999.

But whatever the correct answer is, I should be able to change that part of my plot as needed.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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Act like a journalist to do research for your novel

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

Three and a half years ago I finally stopped being a journalist. Or so I thought.

The journalistic writing may have stopped, but something stayed, something carried over to my fiction writing. My research skills, including my interviewing skills and more important the realization that even with fiction you need to seek out the experts for some aspects of your novel besides the craft of writing fiction. Most novels contain something else – perhaps medical conditions, perhaps police procedure, perhaps court procedure, perhaps historical information, perhaps socio-economic conditions, perhaps geographic information. The list goes on and on.

So as I write my novels, this research necessity is always in the back of my mind. Coupled with readers’ intelligence and knack to find anything off in my novel, I make notes in brackets in the manuscript about getting more info. I even do separate files with lists of what I need to find and where I could get it.

Some, of course can be found on the Internet. Mr. Google is very helpful. So are books on the subject. But some more specifics may need that personal expert.  In the last few years when I did a story for a magazine – print and/or online, and I needed information, I did the list of online links for information as well as indicating where a person was necessary. Sometimes there would be someone mentioned in these links; other times not. Then I used my other writing connections – sometimes posting on a listserve I belonged to – sometimes directly to a contact who might have this info.

I have received some good sources that way including a source who decided he could play guinea pig to be interviewed because he had been involved as victim in the crime. (Yes, this was a story about crime).

Other times I’ve found sources at writing or other conferences – either others attending or a speaker. So I talked to them, let them know what I was doing, and asked if I could interview them.

Usually they could help including letting me interview them.

Sometimes just random conversations with friends lead to sources and sometimes they were the source. Other times it worked for story ideas. That can work for fiction story ideas but that’s for another post.

Another good source is your public library and sometimes it is better to go right to the library, especially if there is a reference library branch. Stacks of books that you can’t find elsewhere and you can’t borrow can be found there – for in-library checking. And don’t forget the knowledgeable librarians. University libraries can also be of great help.

Just remember that because you write fiction, you have to include some facts. You wouldn’t want to have your main character holidaying today in a country using the country’s former name? If you set your story during a war, you definitely want to get your facts right about places and dates.  Leave no (research) stone unturned.

Which reminds me – I need to talk to a medical doctor who specializes in concussions for the novel I’m currently writing. I have taken the first few steps, the Internet, books, and getting some contacts from a former medical doctor turned journalist.

Your publisher may catch some or raise questions about others, but what if you are self-publishing your novel? Either way, you the author are responsible. Get your facts right. Act like a journalist but write like a novelist.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

The book cover at the top links to Beyond Blood on Amazon.com

 

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Criminals and historical figures on CWC panel

Sharon A. Crawford's latest in the Beyond series

Sharon A. Crawford’s latest in the Beyond series

The bad guys and history guys weren’t there in person. But five of us from Crime Writers of Canada – Rosemary McCracken, Steve Burrows, Sylvia Warsh, Nate Hendley and I told tales of crossing paths with the above and more in our research to write that perfect mystery novel or true crime story.

Rosemary moderated the panel which gave me a breather from that function so I would just have to show up and answer questions. But apparently I had trouble finding the Fairview library branch, or rather the exit from Fairview Mall, where I had to run a few errands first (like glasses cleaner, very important to be able to see through your glasses to read from your books). And I’ve been at this library before and had no trouble then going from the mall across the parking lot to the library. This time I couldn’t find the right exit or even the right level of the mall. Finally I asked at the Guest Service booth.

We had a good audience turnout. Rosemary got us panelists talking and the stories that came out. Sylvia’s Dr. Rebecca Temple mysteries are set in 1979 Toronto, but Find Me Again also goes back in time to Catherine the Great. She did most of her research on the Internet. You can’t exactly interview Catherine the Great. Nate, who writes about true crime (Crystal Death), has met the criminal element – bikers and the like. Rosemary, whose protagonist Pat Tierney is a financial advisor (Safe Harbor), writes about finances as a journalist, so has information and connections there. Steve writes the Birder mysteries (A Siege of Bitterns), so birding features in his novels (Steve is a birder), but he had to do some police research. My Beyond books (Beyond Blood) are set in the late 1990s (so far, the third one I’m working on goes into the twenty-first century). As mentioned in last week’s blog post (https://sharonacrawfordauthor.com/2015/07/23/researching-mid-stream-for-your-novel/), I have a police consultant and have to keep any police procedure in that time period. I also have to be careful with technical devices. No social media. Internet connection was via dial-up until late fall 1999, cellphones were just that and they folded closed and had antennae. But there was email and that figures in my Beyond books. In this third one I write, I may have to talk to a psychic, so that should be interesting.

We also read excerpts from our books and answered questions on marketing your book.

Authors and audience connected so well, we had to be reminder by the librarian that it was time to leave.

In August I take a break from actual gigs. So will be spending more time researching and writing that third Beyond book. With a bit of final arrangements for fall presentations and readings. It promises to be a busy fall. Check out the Gigs and Blog Tours page on this blog and also my website http://www.samcraw.com/ for updates as I get them in there.

Meantime, the photo at the top of this post still connects to where you can get e-copies of Beyond Blood and Beyond the Tripping Point. Print copies available (among other places) at https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/search/?keywords=Beyond%20blood%20and%20Sharon%20A.%20Crawford

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

 

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