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Name: Mary Sheltoner

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April 2, 2019 - Advice and Strategy > Writing & Translation
Get Your Hands Dirty! Historical Research For Novelists

For over a decade, piece I was developing my writing skills, I had the great good fortune to activity at a large outdoor ethnic museum near Milwaukee called Old Class Wisconsin. Some student ask me how to start a history essay, answer is easy I take inspiration from historical events. For example I visited Wisconsin and saw historic computer includes a crossroads community and ten employed farmsteads, with restoration dates ranging from 1845 finished 1915.

Old Class Wisconsin is a place where Interpreters get their hands dirty, so my knowledge of historical domestic and agricultural processes grew exponentially. I learned how to warp a loom, how to milk cows, how to make rennet and lye cleanse. I prepared alcohol, sauerbraten, hops yeast, and Finnish egg coffee. And I've passed many of these skills, of course, on to my characters.

But hands-on experience brings much more to a writer's chest than abstract apprehension.
Living history sites and events can provide the circumstantial perception details that bring a environment to life. I know what hog intestines aroma like when they're being prepared for sausage casing, how flax fibers feel between my fingers as they twine into linen cord, what threshing machines channel like when they rattle to life in the middle of a newly-shorn wheatfield. And because I have a novelist's vivid imagination, my experiences at the computer provided compelling insight into the lives of people long gone. Standing on a brick kitchen floor until my knees ached, having to fetch draft horses that broke finished fences on a daily basis, deficient to weep when cabbage moths or drought destroyed crops I had carefully nurtured, cutting oats with a sickle so comb with condensation it was hard to grasp&ndashthis kind of experience provided new perspectives of the women who peopled both the restored homes I worked in and the pages of my novels.

The good news is that, to varying degrees, anyone can gain any hands-on perspectives about the people they are writing about. If possible, call a employed historic computer. Obviously this is easier for those writing about, have, the nineteenth-century farm experience than those writing about Biblical days. But even sites only tangentially related to your time and place might provide any functional perception experiences. Ask the interpreters (guides) questions. Call during different seasons. Hang around, accept photographs, jot perception details and impressions in a notebook.
Look, also, for reenactors interested in your period. Ask reenactors questions that go beyond process and facts, and get to the experiences of the people they portray. Ask if you can hold their musket, or attempt your hand at tamping cabbage into sauerkraut, or whatsoever else is going on. Act to help out at the next event. Get involved.

Finally, be creative about finding distance to experience bits of life. Fashion (or order) a coat frockcoat, or a corset and period-appropriate dress. Learn how to tat lace or carve herpes with a drawknife. Grow heirloom vegetables. Ask a farmer to appear you how to pluck chickens. Make a fire pit in the back curtilage, and attempt baking bannocks or cooking resent or frying flatbread.
Get your hands dirty. You, and your readers, will be glad you did.

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