Michaeline: Carving out Characters and Your Own Identity through Research

Newspaperwoman Nellie Bly in her famous check dress, ready to embark around the world.

Nellie Bly made it around the world in 72 days in 1889-1890. What can you do in 72 days in 2014-15? (Wikimedia Commons)

So, the good NaNoers of the world who finished their word counts and their stories are resting their manuscripts and working on something new, or something old this month, but what are the rest of us doing?

I am feeling a little goal-less this month. The nice thing about doing NaNo in November is that there is always a goal. Even if I’m only making 50 percent or 10 percent of the goal, I still know it’s there, and that can be incentive to open up the file and start typing some more.

In December, I have to be a self-starter. I have to make my own goals. I took a look at my progress last month, and realized that I want to do more research, and I also want to capture some of that research in writing. However, 50,000 words a month is simply not reasonable. Fortunately, one of the many ah-ha moments I had last month was that even if I only write 10,000 words a month, if I do that for 10 months, I’ll have a lot of words.

Only 2,500 words a week seems like too much of a low bar (although, lord knows there have been many weeks when I haven’t cleared it), so I decided I want to do 5,000 words or two scenes, whichever feels more satisfying. Also, each week I want to read one book related to the fin de siecle world I’m creating.

This week, I have the books covered! I read Tish: The Chronicles of Her Escapades and Excursions, by Mary Roberts Rinehart online (see the illustration from last week’s post; that’s how I found out about the book which is the second in the Tish series). The five short stories portray such strong women of middle-age from the early 20th century. Warning: there’s racism. I want to think about that and tackle that subject on a different post. But Rinehart had a great voice, an enduring style of humor and a very clean style of writing that I’d like to see in my own prose. In many ways, she gives P.G. Wodehouse a run for his money. Imagine his stories told from the point of view of some of his Dreaded Aunts.

Book two was National Geographic’s Bylines: A Photobiography of Nellie Bly, by Sue Macy. This was written for children, but like so much YA, the story is amazing. She was a journalist at the turn of the last century, and she went to great lengths to write very human and compassionate stories for the newspapers. The pictures make this a great book, and the resources in the back will help you find more Nellie Bly. Best of all, it’s a short read in a season where it’s difficult to find a nice block of reading time.

And last night, I finished book three, The Woman Behind the Lens: The Life and Work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1864-1952 by Bettina Berch. Johnston was a photographer in Washington, D.C. for much of her career, and she was a major figure in the field. She hustled for her pictures, and made images that are striking even today. The book has helped me envision so much about what Bunny’s career is about, and what her obstacles are.

One of the most fun things about writing a historical is simply discovering there’s so much past that we don’t know about. I was vaguely aware that some women were fighting for suffrage, but I had no idea how cutting edge they were, and how they were able to define their careers and their lives, even in times that we tend to think of as quite straitened as far as women’s roles go.

I can’t wait to see where Bunny goes next week!

7 thoughts on “Michaeline: Carving out Characters and Your Own Identity through Research

  1. The reading is so important for a historical so you’re doing brilliantly Michaeline – I always struggle to remind myself that it’s not just a legitimate use of time but absolutely essential (as is making time to keep reading fiction in your field).

    • Yeah, I’m trying to devise goals that keep the guilt demons at bay. Reading is always a ton of fun. Writing is often very enjoyable, when I’m not worrying about “doing it right.” So, this should be, as Lord Pterry says, the most fun one can have with their clothes on.

      (-: Thanks for the affirmation that I’m on the right track. The research really is essential. As long as I’m getting some writing done alongside, I hope I’m OK.

  2. The more I hear about Bunny’s world, the more I want to know about it, Michaeline, so please keep up the good work. Like you, I can’t wait to see where Bunny goes, and I love the fact that you’re having such a good time finding out.

    • Thanks, Jilly! It’s amazing how that time is a mirror to our own — women fighting to redefine themselves to themselves, and to society at large. And also, the sweeping technological changes — automobiles (electric, steam and gas), electricity, photography, movies, telephones — were changing the world like our own time is being transformed with automobiles (Google cars, electric or hybrid), digital photography, YouTube, the internet.

  3. Pingback: Jilly: Don’t Just Write What You Know | Eight Ladies Writing

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