10 Year Anniverary & New Releases Winners: Carrie Fancett Pagels' Butterfly Cottage - Melanie B, Dogwood Plantation - Patty H R, Janet Grunst's winner is Connie S., Denise Weimer's Winner is Kay M., Naomi Musch's winner is Chappy Debbie, Angela Couch - Kathleen Maher, Pegg Thomas Beverly D. M. & Gracie Y., Christy Distler - Kailey B., Shannon McNear - Marilyn R.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Taking Flight to Write

A while back I went to Charleston for some extensive research for an early 19th century novel I was writing, and during the July 4th weekend I'll be heading back to research a colonial story taking a new set of characters from Scotland to colonial Charleston. 

I've been pouring over historical maps and comparing them to current maps, but nothing beats an arial view of everything, so I took a flight tour over Charleston, SC. While street names change, houses are torn down and new ones built, buildings and bridges that didn't exist now do, the layout of the land, and how the ocean flows through the channels and how the rivers lay don't change as much. It was a beautiful mixture of history and present-day culture from a broad view that many don't get a chance to experience. I was able to see how my characters would arrive to shore from the sea in their sailing vessels. Plus, such an adventure ignites the fire of writing that is bound to remove any serious case of writer's block.

The photo to the above is of the Cooper River Bridge. It opened in 2005, replacing Pearman Bridge, which opened in 1966 as a means to assist with the weight limit that was assigned to the Grace Memorial Bridge, which was opened in 1929. 

This is the Ashley River. It was magnificent to see how it lays across the land. It was named for Anthony Ashely Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and chief Lord Proprietor of the Carolina Colony. Charleston was actually founded in 1670 on the western bank of the Ashley River at Charles Town Landing, not the peninsula location, it's current location, where it moved ten years later.

This is Historic Charleston and Battery Street, which is lined along the harbor. Some of these homes are a couple of centuries old. It's hard to believe they've survived hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and weathered the test of time. Many have been restored as they would have looked during the height of the colony.
As I prepare to write my story, I can just imagine what it was like back then. Chalmer Street still has the cobblestone road and some of the street lamps that look just like the gas lamps they had back in the Victorian period. And with all the carriage tours around the city, old church bells ringing, one can easily imagine living and existing in those by-gone days. This is exactly the type of mind-set I need to be in when I sit down to write my story. 

Research doesn't have to be confined to books, maps, and Internet searches. Once in a while, we can spice it up with creativity. What one thing have you yet to try that you'd love to do?


  1. What a great research trip, no doubt churning up all kinds of story details. The next manuscript I start will be set partially in Colonial Pennsylvania. I may be lingering on this site more often.

  2. Thanks, Olivia for stopping by. We'd love to hear about your adventure in colonial PA.

  3. Jennifer, thanks for giving us a bird's eye view of Charleston! It is fascinating to have this aerial view and brings such a unique dimension to your research. So often we seek the up close details, but this vantage point of the rivers and layout of streets offers such a great perspective. I enjoy using Google maps and satellite (since I won't be up in a plane!) to give me a more global view of an area. And I like to look at historic maps showing how property was platted out.

    I would love to do some reenacting for a few days sometime to give me first hand experience of how my characters lived.

  4. Great idea to use the satellite on Google, Carla. Methinks the real plane ride a wonderful idea, but not always feasible for many reasons.

  5. Great post, Jennifer. Love your arial view! It really does help see the lay of the land in a unique way. I'm heading to Pennsylvania for research soon and will remember some of the things you've said. I doubt I'll be able to take a plane ride (I get airsick!) but being in Old City Philly should be a treat. Charleston is a great setting for stories - can't wait to read more about your upcoming books!

  6. Having lived in Charleston for quite a few years, I loved this post! One of my characters spends time in the dungeon there, down by the harbor, and that was a fun place to visit the last time we were there. My DH and I were married there in a historic colonial church and we had our first child in Charleston.

    As far as different types of research, my latest desire is to spend a long stretch of time on Mackinac Island, where I spent one summer, and grew up near. And Montreal - I would love to go visit the historic churches there!

  7. Hey Carrie, we're going to be in Mackinaw City next weekend. We'll probably pop over to the Inland for a day. We love walking the trails through the woods there. And the fudge... who can forget the fudge! The longest we've stayed on the Inland is a weekend, at the best little Bed & Breakfast there with a balcony overlooking the harbor. We had a bird's eye view of the freighters as they came through the shipping lane. Loved it!

    I'd like to spend a day in a colonial kitchen preparing meals and using only what they would have had available back then. I think that would be fascinating... and difficult.

  8. Love your post, Jennifer. The aerial photos are amazing. I can picture in the harbor the tall sailing ships of years past.

  9. I love the photos in this post. I've lived in Charleston for a year now, and it would be neat to see it from a plane. The bridge photo looks a lot like the Ravenel Bridge, which goes over the Cooper River. My fave view in the whole city is the marsh along the many bridges connecting various areas of Charleston.

  10. Great view of Charleston! And I love on-the-
    spot photos; they say a lot more than what you can get on the internet or through postcards or whatever. You can make a deeper connection. This inspired me today to really go after some early maps, and in so doing, I found that my state museum site had an artist's paintings of the city of Albany (where my heroine is from) and all of the city streets/homes & other buildings he painted from 1750's to early 1805! I was able to pick out a house and street for her a block away from the Dutch Reformed Church-- AND be able to authentically describe it! I think I will make up a portfolio of my own from my research photos, just for fun. Thank you, Jennifer!

  11. Hi Jennifer!
    Thanks for sharing the great aerial views of my favorite city and setting for romance! God bless your research which is always so thorough. Also, I would love to be critique partners for our colonial era books.
    Blessings,Elva Cobb Martin, Anderson, SC

  12. Great research, Jennifer! When I researched in Charleston a couple of years ago, I took a boat tour and carriage ride to help imagine what my immigrant characters saw. The city has changed so much, it's hard to picture the layout for a particular year. Your aerial views would help.

    Pat, so excited for you to find those maps!


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