Monday, October 1, 2012

Research Time and Place: Salmon River

I've always been intrigued by research - the process, the investigative challenges, and of course the results. Any writing that contains even the slightest reference to a time and place -whether fiction or non-fiction demands validation of facts.

When the writer describes a scene, presents dialogue or refers to an event, the past about which he or she is writing is really occurring the "NOW..." for the characters - individuals who created the public records. Historians may live in the present while looking back into the past but writers have an under-appreciated yet just as important of a responsibility: to place the reader into the context of by-gone events and eras. In doing so, the writer brings characters forward into the present for the reader.

Accuracy allows readers to experience the kinds of emotions with which the characters are dealing - their hopes, conflicts, pain, and resolution but presented accurately so readers will internalize those feelings as though actually living in the time period being written about.

One of my favorite books - one that brilliantly deals with numerous difficulties and concepts of historical research is The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom.  That noted, clearly the same strategies and rules are followed by writers of nonfiction, too!

Thom details methods for:

     *Finding and using historical archives

     *Conducting real-life field research

     *Reconstructing a milieu about which you're writing- people, voices, cultural contexts & physical environments

     *Achieving verisimilitude - the appearance of the true, in speech, action, and setting

I strive, in my writing, to focus upon verifying all information I've gathered that might end up in my stories or essays. To me, it's clear that if I plan to weave historical fact with a compelling plot then accurate descriptions comprise the foundation of my stories' believability.

Several days ago, I was drafting an essay about the first two or three times I ever visited Idaho. Those trips included drives across the Galena Summit and down through the Stanley Basin. Last week I took the same drive. It was twenty years later and when I arrived at an historical scenic overlook, a turnout really on Rt. 75, the road market indicated we were at an elevation of about 8000 ft. The highest peak in the area is 11153!

I was describing rivers. I was checking a map and listing names of those I could see from the overlook. But I was most intrigued by the names of several rivers noted in large italicized fonts on my topographical maps. there is the Big Lost River; another lists the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. My reference sources claimed that it is the largest wilderness area in the contiguous United States.

I stopped to take photos. When I read the sign post at the overlook, the graphics and text imbued a drama feel to the sign post when considered within its historical context.

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