August 3, 2011

Doing The Research

I've started writing a short story, something I have always wanted to do. The tale is set in 1863, so I feel as though I should become at least passingly familiar with events of the second half of the 19th Century in order to create a plausible backstory and to provide those telling details my critics so lament in their reviews.

Research sounds tedious, but I have found it to be engrossing, even exciting. As I have shaped out the characters lives I have found myself increasingly immersed in my half-real, half-fictional version of Princeton, a very real small town located dead center in Massachusets. Like most New England towns, it is blessed with a richly documented history that has helped me greatly in my imaginings.

One of my characters served in the Civil War. I signed him up for the the Second Massachusetts Regiment, a unit that saw action in several key battles, including Antietam and Gettysburg. The key moment for my character comes during the Battle of Culp's Hill on the third day at Gettysburg. The Second Massachusetts was one of two regiments mistakenly ordered to attack a much stronger rebel position. For a writer, this is like finding gold. You now have an incident which can be used to add depth to your character's backstory, especially since the central theme of the story revolves around a war wound your character received during that engagement. That the whole incident was a "fog of war" mistake just adds to the psychological texture.

The core of the story remains two characters who have something in common. One is the sole survivor of a great disaster; the other the son of a man lost in that great disaster. The son seeks out the survivor to learn the truth of the final events leading up to the death of his father. But the son has his own labors and sorrows to contend with, as does the other man, who bears the burden of being the only member of his family to survive a second calamity.

These two wounded warriors come together to talk and listen and perhaps help each other accept the losses that have so damaged their bodies and souls. I hope I have the skill to put into words the story I feel in my heart. For now, it is more research. My grandson and I are off to Gettysburg to visit the hallowed ground wherein some of the events I describe occurred.

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