7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tools of the Trade - The Perfect Moment in Time

by Roseanna M. White

When coming up with an idea for a historical, many of us get our first burst of inspiration from an actual historical event or setting. Something we read about or see on a documentary, something that spurs that "what if . . . ?" idea. Sometimes it's something we see at a museum or historical site, or even on a drive.

When that's how inspiration strikes, it's easy to find that perfect time frame to set a book in--it's already determined by real events and people. Oh, we still have to research--online, in books, firsthand--but the frame is already set up, and we're then just selecting the perfect scene to paint within it.

But sometimes our inspiration comes from a more nebulous idea--a character, for instance, or perhaps someone in a given profession that could have lived during a pretty vast stretch of decades. When that happens, we have to figure out where to put them--and that can be a challenge.

When I've found myself in that situation, I've tried a few different means of determining my precise time period. I've done Google searches for years and found timelines that include the most important events worldwide. I've tried looking up events I knew were somewhere in the general neighborhood and seeing if they could fit in with my idea. I've tried looking up people it would be cool for my historical characters to interact with, or when given things were invented.

But what I've found works best takes me waaaaay back to my middle school education. Remember the definition of "setting"? It's time + place. Pretty interesting that it's not one or the other, right? It's the combination, because as any astrophysicist worth his neutrons can tell you, you can't change one without altering the other.

So assuming I already know where want something to be set--which I usually do--researching that place helps me pinpoint the exact months during which I'll want to set my story. Looking up the City of New York during the Revolution, for example, told me that Ring of Secrets would have to take place between November 1779 and October 1780. Refreshing myself on the history of Annapolis right after the Revolution made it clear that Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland would have to span that time between November 1783 and March 1784.

Why? Because that's when things happen where my people are.

Simple, but effective. =) For more detailed discovery, I usually get more specific in my places-search. For instance, I recently read up on the history of the College of William & Mary, which helped me define some plot points for a sequel I'm planning. When I can find such information, I'll look up a specific house or building that plays into the story and note its historical events (fires, repointings, rebuildings, additions, etc.), who owned it when, and what people of import visited it. For instance, by looking specifically at the church my characters would have attended in Annapolis, I discovered that the building had been torn down just before the Revolution and hadn't yet been rebuilt, so the congregation met in the old theater. Something I never would have known by researching the city in general!

You just never know when one of those details will provide exactly what you need to turn a general idea into an in-depth work of fiction. But it's exactly that sort of discovery that makes the job so much fun. =)


Roseanna M. White grew up in the mountains of West Virginia, the beauty of which inspired her to begin writing as soon as she learned to pair subjects with verbs. She spent her middle and high school days penning novels in class, and her love of books took her to a school renowned for them. After graduating from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, she and her husband moved back to the Maryland side of the same mountains they equate with home.

Roseanna is the author of two biblical novels, A Stray Drop of Blood and Jewel of Persia, both from WhiteFire Publishing (www.WhiteFire-Publishing.com), Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland from Summerside Press, and the upcoming Culper Ring Series from Harvest House beginning in January 2013 with Ring of Secrets.

She is the senior reviewer at the Christian Review of Books, which she and her husband founded, the senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, and a member of ACFW, Christian Authors Network, HisWriters, and Colonial American Christian Writers.


  1. Yes, I've had characters come to me that way and had to figure out exactly what year their story was set by doing a lot of research. In fact, that's how I ended up writing 18th century fiction in the first place. Back in 2004 I had an idea for a few characters, and a plantation setting, but I wasn't sure where between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War the story would be set until... well, I learned when men's knee breeches went out of fashion. I wanted my male characters to look more like those in the movie The Patriot. That settled it for me. :) 1793 it was.

    That has to rank as my most frivolous basis for choosing a time frame, at least on the surface, but it opened the door to this abiding passion for and interest in the 18th century (as well as proving the perfect year to set that story as I learned through further research, given that the cotton gin and the Fugitive Slave law happened just then too), that I do believe Someone Else had a larger plan in mind. :)

  2. Lori, at one time, my heart was drawn to the Civil War era. Possibly because I live in a city, Columbia, SC, full of remembrances of that time. In 2006 I self-published my novel, A Perfect Tempest, that takes place in Columbia several months before and after Sherman's troops burned it to the ground. I liked my characters so much that I wanted to establish a history for them. While researching, I discovered that Columbia did not exist during the Revolutionary War. It was all backcountry wilderness. I came to admire the people who hacked out an existence, serving as a buffer between hostile Native Americans and the "more civilized" coastal South Carolina cities. I fell in love with that time period -- the fiery rhetoric, the passions, the fashions -- everything. I've got so much research about that time period, that I could fill several novels and hope to do so.

    1. Susan, I grew up with lots of Civil War history in Maryland too. In the town where I lived is Mary Surratts tavern, and I went to Surrattsville High School (pretty sure the town used to be called Surrattsville, but I expect shortly after her trial and hanging it was changed). I had friends who did Civil War reenactments so have attended several battles and camps, seen all the documentaries and films, grew up listening to adult relatives have long conversations about the war, had maternal relatives fight in the 14th Virginia Infantry. And for all that... I didn't get interested in American history until I delved purposefully into the 18th century as an adult writing that novel I mentioned.

      I've spent some time in and around Columbia, SC. That's where my husband spent a good portion of his youth and his family lived (and some probably still do) for a long time. I know how that is, about thinking through a character's back story and finding things worthy of their own novel. I had something like that happen in one of my stories, that might send me back to the 1740s and 50s to tell a certain tale.

      You're right, there really is no end to the frontier stories that could be told. One small family's existence was fraught with danger and adventure, and think of all the thousands of families up and down that vast stretch of mountains and Piedmont. On both sides.

  3. Thank you so much for another great Post.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Ingrid! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Good tips. I have an idea right now that I know the where, but not the when. I'm going to use this system.


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