The Fog of Research & WFMAD Day 13

My head hurts. I overstuffed it with facts and dead bodies and ghosts yesterday.

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BH and I drove out to a couple of Revolutionary War sites and met with a man who has been studied the events that happened there his entire life. I took a million photos and asked half a million questions.

I’ve already done the background research for this novel and I have a pretty good sense of how the events in the character’s life unfold in conjunction with the historical events he’s caught up in. Now I’m doing the “boots on the ground” research: visiting sites and bugging the experts for the small details; the real-life stuff that many academic historians don’t put in their books, but that make scenes come to life for readers.

As always, going on location helped me see my story with new focus. We stood on the site of a ferocious battle. Cattails and grape vines are growing out of the dirt that was soaked with blood 231 years ago. Despite the heat, I shivered and had to fight back the tears.

The sense of time evaporates in places like that. It feels like the battle happened yesterday, or it’s about to happen in the next hour, or in the next five minutes. The enemy is ready to explode out of the woods without warning, tearing across the cattails and marsh grass. Musket balls will rain across the field, dropping horse and ox, biting into the trunks of the beech and ash trees that line the road. We and They will fight hand-to hand with bayonet blades and hunting knives and axes. Our muskets are used as clubs because there isn’t enough time to load and shoot. Fathers and sons and husbands and brothers will die in this forgotten bit of woods. The survivors will weep and dig shallow graves for the dead before hurrying away, knowing that the enemy is hiding in the shadows.

Then the cattails will start to grow again.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Right now it feels so close to me, I can feel the weight of this coat on my shoulders.

I’ll spend today putting my notes from the trip into the proper scenes. But if you’re looking for a WFMAD prompt, here it comes.

Today’s goal: Write for 15 minutes.

Today’s mindset: daring.

Today’s prompt: I’m calling this one Fork in the Road. List three significant choices you’ve made in your life, then list the alternative to that choice. Choose one of the paths you didn’t take, and write abut what might have happened if you had chosen that instead.

OR! List some of the life choices your character makes and change one of them. Write out how it affects the rest of the story; what are the unfolding series of consequences from that decision?


8 Replies to “The Fog of Research & WFMAD Day 13”

  1. 30 minutes this morning!

    Sundays are supposed to be my day to sleep in, and my husband gets up with the kids. But instead of sleeping, I got up to write. And I feel more refreshed than if I’d have slept for an extra hour.

    So thanks again for issuing this writing challenge. Without it, I’d get nothing done on the weekend. 🙂

  2. Two things:

    1.) Ft. Stanwix?
    2.) I get the same feeling every time I go to Gettysburg. It blows me away to stand there on the battlefield, knowing how many people died. It’s a feeling that just takes you over and you have no other choice but to let it…

  3. I heard Bernard Cornwell talk once and he was very firm about the importance of seeing the places you’re writing about, for the very reasons you state. When I visited Hamburg I was surprised how different the air smelled from here — those kinds of details are never in books.

  4. (shivers)

    I know that feeling of the past being so close you feel like you should be able to reach out and touch it, and I treasure the times when it happens.

  5. You described the feeling of visiting a battlefield perfectly. I remember feeling that way in 6th grade when I visited Gettysburg. Definitely goosebumps-inducing.

    I didn’t want to write yesterday because I was so tired, but I forced myself to do it – I didn’t Friday because of spontaneous partying with friends – and I felt I should. Took me about ten minutes, and then all of a sudden I had a spark of inspiration and didn’t stop for almost an hour.

  6. Having been a RevWar reenactor (as they term it), I’ve been there. My last was, I think, Battle Road, the 225th Anniversary of Lexington and Concord.

    We arrived at the motel about 12:30 at night, slept in our period clothes, and got rousted out of bed about five and a half hours later. So there I stood in half-light in some stubbly field, grubby, groggy, hungry, and clutching cold, dewy gunmetal with freezing fingers while wondering what was going to happen.

    It was pretty miserable. At least, until I realized it was probably almost exactly the way the real participants felt. Then it was an almost godlike moment of time travel, and I felt intensely American.

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