The novel I finished late last autumn takes place from 1923 – 1941.
It is the first of several novels chronicling the protagonist’s life.
I’ve started working on the second novel and…I ran into a problem.
The Best Laid Plans…
I planned to have a major character do a certain thing in the beginning of the latest book; in part, to have the main character, June, completely on her own. But when researching timelines, it hit me:
He wouldn’t be able to do that until November of 1942, and this book begins in February of 1942…
And so, this cool idea I’d thought about for some time was scuttled. Worse: I had to completely look at the history of the time and determine what to do with that character now that everything I’d thought about had changed.
Not the First Time
Things changing or being dictated by specific dates happens when writing historical fiction. Ideally, all research would be done up front and there would be no surprises, but there are many surprises when writing 115,000 words.
I can think of handfuls of ideas for the first novel that were dropped or changed based on real timelines. I initially thought about setting the book a bit earlier, but a specific illusion done by June’s father (a magician) didn’t become known as it’s performed until the early 1920s. And Las Vegas didn’t allow legalized gambling until 1931.
It’s a strange thing having dates shove you around when you’re supposed to be in charge.
Things Work Out
There’s also an advantage to dates directing aspects of a story. Reading through history books, almanacs, journals, and other things chronicling the times presents things you may never have thought about.
New ideas pop up when you realize that Kentucky Derby scene you had planned works out even better based on the year a couple characters attend the race. And already, shuffling around a character’s story in the new novel has presented me with many new ideas.
Life unfolds in funny ways, and having history as a guide — for me — is better than a stringent plot I try making work at all costs. I think about how my own life has, at times, been nudged a certain direction because of some random event.
The Great Depression, World War Two, and the years that followed are iconic times in the history of the United States.
I’m lucky to take a handful of characters along for the ride…