Friday, March 25, 2011

Factual Fiction or Fictionalized Facts

When does fact turn into fiction? When an author writes a novel, of course.

One of the things that surprised me when I was looking for edits on the novel I wrote, was the number of comments about how real things needed to be. Okay, ‘things’ is a pretty generic term, so what do I mean. When describing a view from a recognizable restaurant, I had my proof readers putting themselves in that restaurant, looking out the windows and envisioning what was really there as opposed to what I described. They did this on their own. And even though they were reading a work of fiction, they still expected to be surrounded by reality and that reality needed to be accurate. If your novel includes scene descriptions in a certain area, let’s pick Alaska as an example, your scene has to be based in reality. You can’t put a maple tree in someone’s backyard or a blue jay in a birch tree when writing about Alaska. Neither one of those would occur, for real.

The amount of realism in a work of fiction doesn’t stop at contemporary or historical romances, either. Even science fiction and fantasy have certain realities that they must take into consideration. While listening to other people talk about their writing challenges you learn that a vampire will always need blood, because that is part of what defines a vampire. A gnome will not have fairy-like characteristics. That just wouldn’t be very gnom-a-nomic. And I’ve never seen a tree grow from the sky down.

This is one of those learning experiences that being a part of a writer’s group helped me understand, that I’m grateful for, and that I’d like to share with you. So, keep the facts in fiction or your readers may not be able to see the real deal.

Sandy Shacklett

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Alaska Historical Fiction

Alaska Historical Fiction by Lynn Lovegreen

I write historical fiction set in Alaska. There are so many good stories here that it is easy to come up with ideas. The hard part is deciding which story to work on next.

I am working on a Gold Rush series. I chose that period because there are so many great things that happened during that era and lots of dramatic events to weave into plots. I usually come up with a setting first (ie. Skagway in 1898), then research to find important events and details that would be interesting to readers. Once I know enough, then I start daydreaming about how a young lady might end up in that place and what might happen to her. For example, with the Skagway novel, I knew I wanted the infamous con man Soapy Smith to be featured, and came up with real events that my heroine could witness to anchor that part of the plot. And with a high ratio of men to women, there’s lots of opportunity of romance too. My heroines always end up meeting their special someones on their Alaska adventures!

Once I have a basic plot line, then I write a draft, doing research to fill in gaps as needed. Some people ask, “Isn’t it hard to do all that research?” Not for me--I enjoy it. There are lots of great books on Alaska history, plus historic photographs and visits to sites that give you the little details that can make a place come alive for the reader. So for me, the research is part of the fun of writing.

I’ve got three Gold Rush books so far: set in 1898 Skagway, 1900 Nome, and 1906 Fairbanks. My next idea is early-1900s Kantishna, in modern-day Denali National Park. If I get tired of the Gold Rush one day, there are lots of other dramatic time periods in Alaska. It would be great to do a series about Russian America, when we were Russian territory. And so many interesting things took place during World War II here. Alaska is perfect for historical fiction. I feel lucky to live in this fascinating place.

Sunday, March 6, 2011


March 5th marks the beginning of the Iditarod. “The Last Great Race on Earth” pits man and beast in a race covering 1,150 miles over some of the most dangerous, intimating wilderness in the world. Equipped with only a sled and a loyal team of dogs, the competitors are tested against jagged mountain ranges, frozen rivers and lakes, thick forests, arctic deserts, and wind-whipped coastline. If the terrain wasn’t challenging enough, this all happens during brutal temperatures below zero, blinding blizzards, and long arctic nights.

It takes character to compete in such a grueling, hostile race. This year’s competitors once again include Lance Mackey who is going for his fifth consecutive win after overcoming drug and alcohol addictions plus beating throat cancer.

Talk about character. Lance Mackey is adventurous, ambitious, spirited, and flawed.

Let me tell you about my grandmother. She was a woman with no equal. A wife and mother of four, published author, English teacher, artist, woodcarver, photographer, fisherman, sled dog breeder, and musher. Besides being a wife and mother, all the other accomplishments where achieved after she had turned forty. Not only was she creative, daring, and tenacious, she sucked at cooking, refused to clean, and routinely had strawberry ice cream for dinner and pie for breakfast. My grandfather worshipped her.

My grandmother in her sixties.

When I begin crafting a character, I develop the flaws first. Flaws are interesting. I say this as a writer not as a wife. Sometimes the flaw is big enough that it becomes what the character needs to overcome. Lance Mackey had to conquer his drug addictions in order to become an Iditarod champion. Now my grandmother being addicted to strawberry ice cream is fun. I can play with that and have. In one of my books, my hero is a health nut and my heroine is a junk food fan. When my villain poisons a salad, these flaws save her life, but incapacitate my hero’s.

My husband has flaws that can frustrate the hell out of me, and I know that I have a few that drive him insane. Being a writer gives me the power to exploit his flaws or finally solve those imperfections. At least, fictionally.

I love reading about strong, bigger than life characters, even gods and demons with their other worldly powers, but it’s the flaws that make me truly care about them.

If you’re a writer, what flaws have you integrated into your characters that make them fascinating? As a reader, what are some of the flaws you enjoy in characters?

Tiffinie Helmer