Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Being Mentored: Siri Mitchell's Detailed Accuracy

I sat down at my computer, closed my eyes, and pictured the scene I was about to write. 
I saw______, 
I heard ________, 
I touched ________, 
I tasted _________, 
and I smelled________. 

I painted a picture, a 3-D picture with rich words. Yet for some reason my story seemed superficial.  

Master writers like Siri Mitchell nominated for this year's Christy Award and Lynn Austin 5 time winner of the Christy Award have conquered this problem by: 

**Investing hours, days, weeks, and even months researching their topic
**Filtering through pages of information to include only select valuable details
**Blending the information into the action/dialogue/setting/plot/theme with master craftsmanship

so that....




their great investment.

Take a look at this scene from She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, page 34

     The corset had placed me in an unnatural position, and I could find no comfortable posture in which to sit. Moreover whenever I moved, at lest one of the corset's six hundred bones poked into my sides. I counted the hours until I would be able to take it off and sleep.
     But that night, after the maid had removed the corset cover, she handed me my nightgown.
     "But you've forgotten to remove the corset."
     She curtsied. "You're to wear it, miss."
     "I know, And I do. I will. But now it's time for sleep." Aunt had trouble finding maids that performed to her satisfaction. I was beginning to think this one's time, too, was limited.
     "You're to wear it while you sleep, miss."
     "While I sleep? But if I wear it, I will not seep!"
     The maid bowed her head and curtsied again. "Twas the missus's orders." 
     If I could have reached the laces, I would have untied them myself. I had tried, in fact, that very afternoon. But they were located at the back of the garment and tucked into the corset where I could not find them.
     "Your nightgown, miss?"


I asked Siri to share her research information with us today.  

Mary –

Thanks so much for thinking of me for your series!

I research all of my books the same way. 

I try, first, to read broadly about the period, looking for books on the general historic era. 

After that, I search for social histories that give more insight into the way people thought about themselves and the world in general. 

At this point, I try also to find books that focus on the women’s history of the period. If I can find them, I try to read some biographies or journals kept by women or some books from that era as well. 

After reading generally, I turn toward specifics: books about food, furniture, clothing, professions (if applicable), etc.

I’ve found YouTube to be a great source for old-fashioned dances and sites like SnapFish and Shutterfly to be useful for photos taken of places like Plymoth Colony, Castles in Europe, or other tourist sites that are still in existence.

I usually end up with between 200 and 300 sources for each book. Most of these are from the internet (a great source for digitized primary documents and out-of-print books), but a fair number are books. 

I’m attaching my bibliography for She Walks In  Beauty so you can see the books I read through
She really sent me the list!  Unbelievable!

I usually spend a month or two reading up before I start writing. I prefer to have all the ‘big picture’ research in my head before I start so I can ‘feel’ the era. I don’t mind leaving some of the more specific research (food, clothes, hairstyles) for later drafts.

Let me know if you have further questions. I’d be happy to answer them. And thanks so much for supporting my books!

author of A Heart Most Worthy,
She Walks in Beauty, Love’s Pursuit,
A Constant Heart, & Chateau of Echoes

Thanks for the great insights, Siri.

Well, I have more to say on this topic. AND I simply must tell you about Lynn Austin's modeling.
So, I will continue this topic in my next post, September 14th.

Do you have questions for Siri regarding her detailed accuracy craftsmanship?
Have you mastered this skill and are you willing to share tips or examples?
What research did you do prior for your WIP?
How have you changed boring details into exciting text?

Siri not only modeled how to let her reader see and touch the corset--Siri modeled how to let the reader wear the corset

**from She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell, used with permission


Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, A month or two of research before she starts writing? Very impressive! That short clip makes me want to read that book now.

The idea of historical research sounds daunting to me, thus why I write contemporary. :)

Jeanne Takenaka said...

I enjoyed this post, Mary. Thanks for sharing all that Siri does to prepare to write. She's in-depth, but it obviously pays off in giving her a good "picture" of her story world.
As a newbie writer I have a question for her. My story is set in a contemporary setting. It's a romance. What kind of reseach might I be able to add nuances to deepen my story?

Thanks ladies!

Siri said...

I hope you get the chance to read it, Sarah!

That's a great question, Jeanne. In my contemporaries I enjoyed adding details that everyone has experienced so that a reader immediately has a connection to the character: In Chateau of Echoes, one was that pair of shoes that's so cute but you never wear -- and when you finally do, oops!, you slip on those slippery soles and finally remember why (...and why don't we ever seem to throw those pairs out?); in Kissing Adrien, the heroine gets talked into buying a 'sexy' dress that looks and sounds good at the time, but really doesn't fit her personality and ends up not having the promised effect; in The Cubicle Next Door, the heroine reacts to an old-school style secretary that hasn't kept up with technologies (she also actually says all those things that all of us think and would never dare to say); in Moon Over Tokyo, the heroine gets her hair sucked into the hairdryer at a very awkward moment. Every person has secret pleasures that might seem mundane to everyone else. If you can find a place that's memorable (Paris in Kissin Adrien; Manitou Springs in The Cubicle Next Door; Japan in Moon Over Tokyo), that will also bring its own character and challenges to the story. Each profession seems to have it's own form of snobbery and prejudices as well.


Mary Vee Writer said...

Sorry about the crazy alignment, gang. Blogger and I are duking this out. Nonetheless we are so blessed to have Siri join us today. Thanks, Siri.
As you can see, she is here to answer your questions.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Siri, thank you for sharing your insight and examples. They are very helpful. :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

Siri Mitchell = one of my all-time favorite authors! I have to buy multiple copies of her books because I "lend" them out and they never return!
Her details are so skillfully woven in and they add depth and breadth to her stories. I read them over and over again.

Keli Gwyn said...

I love reading books by authors who've done their research. They can add a depth to a story I find rewarding as a reader. I've got Siri's book in my TBR mountain and am eager to savor her story.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Time is a problem, but I can see the benefits of Siri's research, it's like coloring an object teal instead of blue. Her indepth research provides a richer text.

I'm glad you asked your question, and extra happy Siri happened to stop by to answer. Awesome, eh?

Mary Vee Writer said...

I totally understand. In fact, I had given my copy of She Walks in Beauty away before I did the post. I had to buy a new copy to get the quote correct, then I came across an unsaved friend who loves this type of literature. Yup, I gave her the copy.

Mary Vee Writer said...

I agree. I like learning from fiction books. When I've taught writing classes, I've pointed out the numerous facts found in fiction. The responsibility to write accurate facts in fiction is greater, in my opion than in non fiction because readers subconsciously or consciously take the facts as truth. Often lines are quoted from fiction works in conversations to back up a point.
I love fiction--its the best of both worlds:)

Pepper said...

#1 - Siri Mitchell can mentor me ANY TIME!!!!! In fact, she gave me a mini-mentor session at ACFW last year. She. IS. AWESOME! (and a die-hard believer in the Moral Premise, right Siri?)

#2- Mary, wonderful topic. (and I want that list from Siri, btw ;-)

#3 - There's no wonder Siri is an award-winning and award-nominated author with the detail, rich dialogue, and memorable characters! Not to mention the settings and storylines. Fabulous!!

Pepper said...

Btw, thanks for all the hard work you do on research to bring your novels to life for the readers. Fabulously done!

Do you ever feel like you go into 'zealot-mode' when you research, so that the research might take over your time? Or have you learned the delicate art of stopping when it's time to write :-)

Mary Vee Writer said...

I'll email you the list.

Great question for Siri. If she misses it, I'll email her and post the answer.

Siri said...

Hey Beth -- thanks for your kind words!

And Pepper -- I'm a definite believer in the moral premise! And spending that time with you at ACFW was one of the highlights of my conference!

I went into 'zealot-mode' with A Constant Heart. I started where I usually do with my historicals (zero knowledge). If fact, one of the biggest efficiencies I can think of with historicals would be to specialize in a single era. Too late for me, but I would really recommend it. In any case, I reached a point where I really HAD to start writing even though I didn't feel like I knew everything I wanted to about the period. I hadn't visited any of the historical sites I was writing about, etc., etc. I finally had to realize that even if I had gone on a research trip to London, I wouldn't have been able to experience 'Elizabethan London'. It's mostly gone now. And even though there wasn't enough time to read about specifically this thing or that, the research itself wasn't my speciality. My speciality was MAKING STUFF UP. I realized that I'd visited enough old stone buildings to imagine what one would be like in winter (miserable). I'd passed enough random wheat fields over the course of my life to interpret what that looks like for readers. I'd lived in the Pacific Northwest long enough to know what 'gray and dismal' looks and feels like. The sound of horses' hooves, the smell of a barnyard...those I knew from experience. So I decided to apply my personal experiences to historic facts through the lens of women in history. That's always the most interesting part for me: what was it about their era that made these women make the choices that they did. We still ask ourselves those same questions. Why is it that they came up with different answers?

In brief: all you have to do is be a really good liar. All you have to know how to do is create a convincing portrait of a past reality. People get graduate degrees in the periods I write about. Some people write their PhD theses on questions I address in my books. Someone will ALWAYS be more expert about these eras than I am (...and I guarantee that one of those people will write to me about something they've found that I got wrong...). I do my best with a limited amount of time and limited resources. That's all I can do!

Pepper said...

Okay, my month is made! Siri Mitchell said I was a highlight of her ACFW. (smile)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Wow, readers, we had a great tutorial from Siri. How blessed!

Siri, you have been a gem responding to our questions and taking the time to teach. Thanks so much for joining us today.