Writing is one of the best ways of expressing ourselves. The plot and the character development in fiction can blossom into great literature. The concepts of science, philosophy or history can expand a reader’s knowledge.
But the best story line or concepts presented can pale when the reader cannot picture the scene. Dialogue drives the scene. But being able to see what is happening, through the words of the author gives the reader a better attachment to the story.
For example, in the Rex Stout novels of the 30s and 40s, we knew exactly where Archie and Nero Wolfe were, how the furniture was arranged and what Nero’s schedule was. They lived in mid-town Manhattan. The office had two desks, with phones on each, two red leather chairs facing the larger desk, with a small table between them. These were reserved for the most important visitors of the moment. Other chairs could be brought in. Nero worked on the third floor twice a day, morning and afternoon, with his orchids, and could not be disturbed. I haven’t read a Nero Wolfe detective mystery in 30 years. But the description sticks.
In Carmen Amato’s Emilia Cruz mystery series, the detective room has a desk and cheap computer for each detective, a coffee pot and a large marker board for notes. The lieutenant’s office opens right into the office. He is aware of what is going on. The place smells of coffee and tobacco. We know the notebooks in Emilia’s desk and who sits across from her. Details let us walk through the story with Emilia.
Writing is all about getting the whole story out. Not only do we want our readers to be able to picture a place, but we need to have our readers picture the characters. Most people, and, by extension, most characters, have some little quirks that the writers should capture and present occasionally. In Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Claire mentions Jamie’s odd traits frequently. His red hair is coppery, reflects the candlelight with a golden glow. Or he gets seasick easily. So she puts him into scenes where he has the opportunity to turn green, vomit, concentrate on his breathing with his head between his legs or whatever else Gabaldon choses. What about Claire? She has curly dark hair which is constantly coming loose from her hairpins and she does not like to wear a cap over her hair. But these things are not mentioned once in the hope that the reader remembers. It is repeated throughout each book.
One thing I have noticed is trying to picture outdoors in stories. I love stories where the scenes change, indoors to outdoors, one building to another. And I enjoy picturing where the character is. It could be a park, or it could be a park-like setting with ancient oaks creating a canopy over the stone walkways. The second can be recognized so much more easily.
In my work in progress, the year is 1635, the place is the East coast of Virginia. Except for little houses dotted around the countryside, most of the action is out of doors. Spring brings pink and white flowering dogwoods. Multiple trees supply colorful berries for animals throughout the summer. Flowers of every color bloom throughout the long summer. Placing my characters in the forests of Virginia can give my readers a more enjoyable read.
Put detail in your stories. Let your readers enjoy even more.
Where Did You Find That Story-Part 5
Up to this point, the story was just an interesting work of research. I knew bits and pieces, now, of some people who had appeared as names in a one hundred year old newspaper article. The site, italiangenealogy.com had given me a number of ship manifests and a marriage certificate but I still did not know much about these people. Until I searched the 1910 census. There was no Giuseppe and Carmela Amato anywhere in Hartford. Giovanni Tassone and his family were there. Carmela’s sister and her family were there. Suanj did more research for me and analyzed everyone at that address in Hartford. Her discovery was that Giuseppe had taken on an alias for the census. The number and ages of his girls was right, but the names were wrong. He was Garsten Karmarter. Why he chose that alias became part of the story.
Then I was introduced to ancestry.com. This is an amazing site. I only got the American version, which did not give me access to European files. I began by reviewing anything I could about the four main principles in the book, Giuseppe and Carmela Amato and Giovanni and Rafaella Tassone. Every piece of information I could find, small announcements about the birth of a child in the paper, directory entries, were recorded on small notepaper and put on the walls in chronological order.
I started finding information about the police officers involved in the investigation. Who was married, who was good at baseball, what the children’s names were. Much of the information also came from a book I found at Google Books, “The History of the Hartford Police Department” with information from its start until 1906. Many of the men who were involved in the investigation were mentioned in there and included their baseball stats where appropriate. Other books were the annual records of the city of Hartford which included finances, like the fact that the supernumeraries (part timers on at will call) were paid $2.50 a day.
Ancestry.com had forums which I went to when I had exhausted any other route. There I looked under all the last names I found related to the story and left notes behind at several threads. I finally got some responses, some leading up to blind alleys and others which opened new perspectives. Great nieces and nephews on the Amato side began to write. I discovered that Carmela had a sister who, with her husband, had moved to British Columbia. I met three of her descendants through the ancestry.com forum and we began to communicate. One of them, Cory, had studied his family extensively and had even gone to Serra San Bruno. He was a wealth of information on buildings in the village and on family names. Due to his research previous to our meeting, he had compiled a genealogical chart of Carmela and Concetta’s family. I found people I had not known. I also found that a story I had heard years before was true. Carmela did lose a little boy before coming to America.
As ancestry.com expanded, I learned more. I met a man who called himself Tooch, who had access to a complete set of the marriage, birth and death records of Serra San Bruno, much like the LDS. But he could read them and tell us what they said. His grasp of Italian is better than mine. He was able to send me several documents.
Elizabeth A Martina is a historical fiction writer, but the history is true and the characters are real. Her aim is to get people to see life from another perspective, using history as the venue.