Today’s vlog is about some of the gaps that show up when I power through a first draft (or half a first draft, as I recently did) and just use the letters “X” and “Y” to stand in for all the things I don’t know yet. At some point — maybe when the first draft is complete or, in this case, halfway through the first draft — I have to stop and do some research to fill in those gaps.
They could be really small things, as when I wrote this sentence: “They were building an X; they were planning a Y.” In context, the sentence relates to the early days of the town of Port Union, Newfoundland, which was built by William Coaker as the headquarters of the Fishermen’s Protective Union and the only union-built town in North America. I knew that Port Union had many amenities that most Newfoundland outports at the time lacked, but wasn’t sure what was built when, and for the sake of a passing sentence it was more important to me to press on and get that scene done than to go find out what they were planning and building on any given date. That’s the kind of gap that’s easily filled with research.
Then there’s the slightly larger problem of a scene like the Bowring Park rowboat scene, which fits really well with the story. My character Lily stands on the shore of the Bowring Park duck pond and watches a man rowing a boat full of children across the pond — which you could do in the park in days gone by. But it doesn’t fit so well with history, because in 1893, when the scene is set, Bowring Park wasn’t yet a public park (it was part of a private estate). So, I have to relocate the scene to somewhere else in St. John’s where one might have rowed a boat in 1893 (possibly Quidi Vidi, but I’ll have to see). That’s a bigger fix.
Finally, you have the huge problems — like the fact that I first introduced my character Grace as living in Port Union in the summer of 1916 and her family having been there for a couple of years. A quick hour of research revealed that I was mistaken about the founding date of Port Union — in the summer of 1916 building was only just beginning, and nobody would have lived there for two years. There were strong, character-related reasons why I wanted her family to settle in Coaker’s “model town,” and also strong plot reasons why that scene needs to occur in 1916. Something’s got to give. The good news is that with a day or so of thinking about it, I think I can relocate Grace and her family and give them a better reason for being where they are at the time. (Don’t worry, Port Union fans — if there are any out there — the town is still central to the story!) Sometimes the necessary changes brought on by research can actually make a story stronger.
I guess there’s a whole other question to be opened up about how important this kind of historical accuracy really is — some writers of historical fiction are fanatical about wanting to get every detail right, while others feel they have license to change history to fit the story. But that’s a theme for a whole other vlog on another day!