How do you handle your research? Do you do as much as you can before you start writing, or do you research as you go along?
I seem to belong to the first group. I research exhaustively until I know as much as I can about the whole background of my book. I even do this before I start developing the characters. That’s another question: how well do you know your characters before you start? Do you do detailed character sketches first and start to write with a solid knowledge of your characters, or do you get to know them as you go along?
Here I belong to the second group, although my characters, especially the main character, have been living in my head for so long I have a pretty good, if somewhat unconscious idea of what they’re like.
Anyway, I’ve done all the research I can for now for my new book and it’s time to start writing. It’s a historical novel for the Dear Canada series, set in Ottawa, Canada at the time of Confederation, 1866/1867. I’ve learned a lot about Canadian history along the way, now it’s time to learn about Rosie Dunn.
Here’s what I’ve got so far. All comments most welcome. Would you be tempted to keep on reading? Actually, that’s five questions. Hope to hear back from you.
Sunday, March 4th, 1866
Quèbec, Province of Canada
My life is about to be turned upside down. When we got home from church this noon, we found Mary Margaret here. Not too unusual that, as she gets every other Sunday off from the Bradley’s where she is in service to Mrs. Bradley, but what was unusual was that she was humped over the kitchen table in floods of tears. Mary Margaret never weeps. My big sister is usually obnoxiously cheerful.
At first no amount of fond encouragement from Mam could be after getting her to say a word, but finally I got exasperated and blurted out, “Fine then, weep if you must, but could we not sit down to our dinner before it gets burned to a crisp?”
Mam glared at me as if I were very cold-hearted indeed, but Da and the little ones looked relieved. Mary Margaret gave me a fierce look, but stopped her weeping.
“You’d be devastated too, Rosie Dunn, if you had just heard the news I have this morning,” she said.
She gave a huge hiccup and burst into tears again. Mam patted her on the back. I would have given her a good shake. Then she began again. Once she got started it seemed like she’d never stop and the words poured out fast and furious. I can’t begin to write down everything she said, but the gist of it is that Mr. Bradley is a civil servant with the Government and now that the Capital of the Province of Canada has been moved from Quèbec to Ottawa in preparation for Confederation next year, the Bradleys must move to Ottawa with all the other Government civil servants. Mary Margaret is adamant that she will not move with them. True, Ottawa is said to be a horrible town way out in the middle of nowhere, nothing more than mud and sawmills, but the main problem is because of the young man Mary Margaret is stepping out with. Donny and she are planning on being wed this summer and Mary Margaret will not put it off.
Now, this is the part that has stunned me past words. Mary Margaret’s solution to this problem is that I should take her place with the Bradleys and go with them! And the worst thing is that Mam and Da are considering it! I started to protest and Mam just said I should save my breath to cool my porridge. “You’ll do what you’re told, me lady,” she said in that tone of voice of hers that brooks no argument.
Even though I’m thirteen and I knew I would have to leave school and go into service next year–there are six younger than me to feed and clothe after all and I have to do my part–I never thought it would happen so soon. And to go so far away! I can’t even imagine it.