I thought about something this morning that’s never come up before, although it might have been lurking in the peripheral parts of my brain. We often walk the same path as our protagonists without realizing it.
I just started writing a new Sandi Webster story. She’s going to try to solve a crime that occurred in the 1930s. The incident took place in what was a small farming community at the time. My plan is to use a real town, not a fictional location.
This is going to involve plenty of research. So far I’ve had trouble discovering some of the history that would be pertinent to the story and town. I can find all kinds of information involving the late 1800s and early 1900s, but not much about the 1930s.
When we research, we need to come at things pretty much the same way as our protagonists. Obviously, Sandi is going to have trouble finding information, too.
For instance, I’ve already discovered that there was no police department in the town during the time period I’m interested in. The town wasn’t incorporated until 1955, which is when the department came on the scene. Who would have investigated the crime in the 1930s? Where could Sandi find records, if they still exist? I’ve heard through the grapevine that there were five Marshal’s in the area. Now I have to determine if that’s true, or if the County Sheriff would have handled the matter, and if there would still be records available to peruse.
Many stories include diaries or letters to give the protagonist needed information. I’ve used letters in a story, and I used a journal kept by a town lawman in another. But those things wouldn’t always be available in real life.
So our character has to do some imaginative research and sleuthing, especially if the crime was committed so long ago that there are no longer any witnesses to question. Hopefully, for this story there will still be some old timers still hanging around the area.
Coincidences? Yes, sometimes a coincidence can lead the character to a resolution, but in real life this would be fairly rare – which leads back to hard work and a lot of digging.
Old newspapers can be extremely helpful. You can find out what people were like and what was going on in the period you’re interested in. I plan to talk to someone at a local newspaper this week, and hopefully they’ll have copies of old news.
Sandi would have to do the same things I’ll be doing. She won’t be walking into a house where someone is waiting to hand her a list of answers. She’s going to have to work for a resolution.
Why on earth would she feel the need to solve an old crime? In her case, she has a reputation for solving old murders. Oh, yes, she’s solved current crimes, too, but there’s something challenging about the crimes of the past.
If you enjoy the Sandi Webster mysteries, keep a good thought for me. So far I haven’t been able to find much of the background I need for the story. I’d much rather include facts where they’re necessary rather than make things up for convenience.
Walk in your protagonist’s shoes and solve things along with him or her. You’ll meet some new people and have a good time putting the story together.
Yes, you can do a lot of research at the library and on the Internet, but some things just aren’t at your fingertips. Sometimes you have to work for every tidbit, just like your character. Hopefully you’ll have a good time doing it.
Until next time, read some old newspapers. You’ll be surprised at how different life was in other eras, and how much it can sometimes be similar.
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