Monday, September 16, 2013

Historical Research

I'm making progress on my novel, which delights me because I love this story. It's my favorite thus far. But last week, I had to put the story aside and work on an article.

To my delight, my editor wants me to include history on whatever town or destination we're featuring, so I have to do a fair amount of research before I begin. I'm not satisfied with regurgitating basic history I find on official websites. I like to dig a little deeper and make connections that aren't always obvious. With this current article, I wanted to go farther back in the town's history than its incorporation. Years ago, I had read Edward Bland's A Discovery of New Brittaine, in Narratives of Early Carolina. Most of the landmarks he mentioned had different names at that time, so I recognized little, but I knew part of the purpose of his trip was to find survivors of Raleigh's Lost Colony. That became my starting point.

As it turns out, researchers are uncertain as to whether Bland and his party made it as far south as the region I was researching, but I had a few names of people and some familiar places, and researching those led to other names of people and places. I found primary sources on UNC's Documenting the American South and on a Virginia site, which I cross-referenced with old maps, and I finally made the connection I was hoping for.

Why mention it on a fiction blog? Because fiction writers must often to do the same, even for a contemporary novel. In the story I'm currently rewriting, one character is from South Carolina's old Dark Corner. Although light now shines on the escarpment--revealing gorgeous scenery--the history of the area plays into the character's family and his upbringing, and the impact is had on his morals, beliefs, and behavior. I may not mention everything I learned, but by going back into the history of the area, I'll be prepared to make crucial connections.

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