Thursday, January 7, 2016

Writing Fiction Based on Factual Events

I’ve written over a dozen historical fiction series about my ancestors who homesteaded Kansas during the 1800s. While I often base my stories on facts or photos I’ve found on my main characters, I still need to expand the story to bring the people and places to life.

Quite often a piece of information will only lead to more questions —which I think is the fun part of researching.

John and Sarah Pieratt, 1866, Lawrence, Kansas
For example, the picture featured here is my great-great grandfather John Pieratt and a young woman.

Researching my family tree, John (1817-1868) and his first wife, Deborah (1821-1859) left Kentucky in 1854 to move to the new Territory of Kansas. Their journey was the basis of my book Trail of Thread. They were both listed in the 1850 census of Bath County, Kentucky, but John and his second wife, Nancy (1830-1863) were listed in the 1860 census of Lawrence, Douglas County, Kansas.

Looking at these two people in the photo you see a big age difference between them. That leads me to believe the woman with John was his third wife, Sarah (1846-1914) whom he married in 1865. Notice she is holding a Bible in her lap? That gesture was seen in photos of that era when the woman was pregnant.

So, I already know that John lost two wives and was 29 years older than his third wife when this picture was taken, probably in 1866 when Sarah had her first child. Imagine the stories you could write—and the emotions of not only Sarah and John—but his children of his first marriage who were older than Sarah?

Add stories from newspaper clippings of Lawrence’s problems during the Bleeding Kansas era and the Civil War (which are featured in my books Thimble of Soil and Stitch of Courage), and it’s easy for me to write fictional accounts of what was going on around their area, and the emotions that had to be felt by my family during that time period.

One more look at birth and death dates and I realize Sarah gives birth to her second child two days after John dies from blood poisoning.  Oh my! Can you imagine what she went through?!

I just put myself in Sarah’s place and pour her emotions into my words. Is it fact or fiction? It doesn’t matter to the reader at this point because the reader has become a young mother and widow in 1868…

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  1. Linda,
    History has so many seeds for us to plant and grow. I love that you take the stories of your family and make them accessable to the rest of the world. Here's to a continuation of the telling of 'history' and the readers who love those stories. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

    1. I looked through my great-grandparent's photo albums when I was young and always wondered who the people pictured were like. Now as an adult I've pieced my ancestor's stories together. Thanks, Doris.

  2. That is fantastic you spin your family's history into stories people love. It's so much fun to look through old photos and imagine the "what ifs".

    1. Photos of children in caskets in one family album sent me on a research trip, founding out my great great grandmother gave birth to one child, and lost two other children...all within ten days time. Talk about emotion to write about!

  3. That was so interesting Linda. Thanks for sharing that!!!!