Betty’s Tips

Happy fall, dear readers,

Autumn is upon us once again. Crisp weather, beautiful leaves, great walks through multi-colored parks and forests, the slow transition into your favorite sweaters and jackets, enjoying the final days before the cold, snow and shorter days push us indoors for more time than we might like.

Actually, I’m a little tired of staying indoors. It’s six months into the pandemic now. I’ve caught myself referring to the crows that perch in my pumpkin patch as “crovids.” I’ve taken to disinfecting my rutabaga. No virus is getting in here! I have books to write, and in this column, I’ll give you some sites I’ve found that help me with this task.

While we’re disinfecting, it’s a good season to reflect on the year past: what we’ve done, what we’ve written, and what we wish we might have done, or written, especially in this tough year of 2020.

I was digging up my potatoes and hand-scrubbing each one with rubbing alcohol when I began wondering what they did to clean their produce during the influenza of 1918. My curiosity took me to the history books. I didn’t find out much about vegetables, but I did discover the genre of historical fiction.

What a challenge it must be to write a historical novel! First, to choose a period to write about, then to research how they spoke, the clothes they wore, what they ate, the attitudes they had on everything around them. Research is a skill that must be learned. Not all sources are equal. You need to delve into deeply and then find your way back out of it to share it with your readers.

Then, you must develop the characters that fit in. They cannot walk around or react with modern manners or attitudes. They must truly be with their times, not ours.

Complicated? Yes, but there is a wide choice of blogs and books that can help point you in the right direction. Here are some of the good ones:

readingthepast.blogspot.com News, views and reviews by Sarah Johnson. A keeper.

historicalficition.com Focuses on the different genres of historical fiction.

awriterofhistory.com A favorite of mine as she often focuses on the history of Paris.

austenprose.com Enough said? A celebration of all things Jane Austen.

hfebooks.com The Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFFAC) offers readers an outstanding selection of historical fiction e-books.

If you prefer to turn actual pages, you might try the following good books:

Get Started In Writing Historical Fiction by Emma Darwin. The title says it all.

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom. Could be the best book written on the importance of research online and offline.

How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction by Persia Woolley. Just as the tittle says, a dive into how sell historical fiction as well as write it.

Find your characters, wrap them into a good plot, and then tell us how it would have happened then. Everyone looks forward to a great story from the past. I’m thinking Abe Lincoln’s Artichoke has a certain ring to it. What do you think?

Until next time, readers!

Betty Wryte-Goode


Mixed-Up Words of the Month

Empathy vs. sympathy

The two words that feature in this issue’s column are something we could all use a lot more of in today’s world. They are empathy and sympathy. Many writers use them interchangeably, but in fact, their meanings, although similar, are quite distinct from one another.

Empathy relates to the ability to understand a person’s feelings. It requires the ability to either imagine yourself in the other person’s position, or for you to have endured an experience similar to theirs, which gives you a shared perspective. Having empathy for another person means you understand why they are feeling as they do but does not automatically make you sympathetic to their behavior.

Sympathy is feeling sorrow in another person’s behalf. You may not understand why the other person is distressed or grieving, but you feel sad on account of their sorrow.

Here’s a sentence: “Having failed her own exam, Sally empathized with Rosa’s grief over her poor grades, but couldn’t sympathize much, as Rosa rarely studied.”

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