AMERICAN INDIANS, DREAM CATCHERS: In fiction and fact

IAmerican ndian Painting by Velda

American Indian Painting by Velda

If we aren’t careful when we write historical fiction, the characters come off stiff and boring. What’s the solution? Set them squarely down in the center of something that really happened. Study the way people acted and reacted in that day and time, give the characters some background problems and a goal that applies to the times and you’re off.

In addition to that, I like to walk real characters through the action so they can all get acquainted. I’ve mingled outlaws like Jesse and Frank James, and the notorious gentleman outlaw Clay Allison into my fictional story letting my hero and heroine get to know them,. I actually shoved them together into the story line so that the real characters affected the  plot.

This calls for a lot of research concerning these true-to-life characters, which I enjoy thoroughly. For instance, I never read anywhere that Frank James was fond of quoting Shakespeare until I began to dig into his life story. I also learned that Jesse loved to have his photo taken. This fit right in with my book, Images in Scarlet, about a young woman photographer working her way from Missouri to Santa Fe by taking photos after the Civil War. At that time Frank and Jessie were roaming Missouri and had a hideout there.

When Jesse and Frank kidnap her, she fears the worst, until she learns they only want her to take some photos. Jake, who is traveling with her, which is another story, thinks the worst when she disappears and tracks her to the outlaw hideout. It made for a slightly funny, slightly scary scene and I really enjoyed writing it. My readers let me know they enjoyed reading it too.

It’s always important when using these real characters that the writer makes sure they could have been in the vicinity during the time period the story takes place. Fiction only extends so far in your historical storytelling. You can’t make up outrageous things about well-known historical figures, though you can allow them to romp through your story if you remain true to their lives and let them do what they would have done in such a situation.

best dreamcatcherIn Dream Walker, the story begins in Fayetteville, Arkansas in 1849 where the Cherokee and white businessmen have formed a wagon train to go west to California to look for gold and come back rich. The plan is to blaze a new trail west avoiding the desert and some of the well-grazed land around the Oregon Trail. This will open up a new route so the cattle drives crossing Arkansas can follow with better results.

In the story I placed the real leaders and several of the characters who were on that first wagon train west. After my half-Cherokee, half-white heroine, Rachel Keye (Winter Dawn) stows away on one of the wagons, the real characters interact with her and ex-soldier Daniel Wolfe (the fictional hero) throughout the trip. One of Arkansas’ folk heroes was Peter Mankins, and he was known to be a charming man who liked the ladies. He had a big part in the book when Rachel continued to get in trouble.  Because I’ve written a lot of historical articles for several local newspapers over many years, I knew these people quite well, having researched them as well as interviewing people whose families were well acquainted with them.

The disclaimer in the front of my books carries this statement, a bit different from most: As a work of historical fiction, the names, incidents and places from the past are historically accurate. The story is fiction and those names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination.

Advertisements

About veldabrotherton

I'm primarily a writer, but I also speak and teach workshops and co-chair a large critique group. My brand is SexyDarkGritty and that applies to my western historical romances, mysteries, women's fiction and horror novels. After almost 30 years in this business, I still have something to learn and attend conferences to network with other writers, publishers, editors and agents.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to AMERICAN INDIANS, DREAM CATCHERS: In fiction and fact

  1. Thanks for these reminders, Velda, when writing historical fiction. You always have something neat to say about your writing and research 🙂 Love your American Indian painting!

  2. Jan Morrill says:

    Velda, your post had a lot of helpful ideas in writing historical fiction, but I especially liked your painting. What a multi-talented inspiration!

  3. Thanks, Jan. I appreciate your always nice comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s