Earlier this year, you would have had to be hiding under a rock to miss the daily news stories that were reminding us that the Titanic sunk 100 years ago. Mention the Lusitania or the Empress of Ireland and people may scratch their heads, but EVERYONE has heard of the Titanic!
As part of a school project when I was about 10, I had to interview grandparents and create a family tree. At that time, little was really known about my mother’s side of the family – a long story maybe fit for another day, but I sat in awe at my paternal grandfather’s knee as he recounted how his mother, Agnes MacPherson, was supposed to be on board the Titanic when she immigrated to Canada.
Even then, as a young child, I’d heard of the tragedy of the Titanic and the mere thought that my great grandmother had very nearly gone down with it was horrifying! But, once I got over the horror aspect of the story, I was delighted to write up this fascinating fact of family history and add it to my project knowing that not many of my peers could have such juicy content to share about their families!
So, fast forward about 12 years. By this time, my grandfather had passed on, but my interest in genealogy remained and I started gathering facts from archives and record offices. Little was still known about my mother’s side of the family, but my father’s side of the family, particularly his father’s side, had been United Empire Loyalists and had been given land grants for property in Prince Edward County, Ontario, not far from Kingston, at the end of the American Revolution. There was a virtual cornucopia of documents available for that branch of my family to be discovered, recorded and analysed.
And then, as if an iceberg had ripped my childhood genealogy project wide open, after all those years, I figured it out. The facts just didn’t add up. Sweet Agnes MacPherson, an orphan from a home in Scotland, could not possibly have just “missed” the Titanic as my grandfather had told me because Agnes MacPherson was already here, living in Ontario, married with children and probably tucked safely into her own bed on that April night in 1912 when the Titanic sunk on the cold and calm Atlantic. You see, my grandfather had been born in 1910 and he had an older sister who’d been born a few months after her parents married in 1908.
I’ll never know why my grandfather told me the tale that he did. Perhaps he believed it to be true or perhaps he wanted to see his granddaughter’s eyes go big with amazement as she hung off his every word. Maybe he wanted to incite a love of history by connecting me to a well known event?
So, what’s this got to do with writing I bet you’re asking?? Simple. When you’re writing, know your facts – your characters, their ages and their background stories, your settings and your scenes and everything in between – and keep track of it all because you could blow your story out of the water if you don’t!
It’s easy to mess this up. Some of us write in stolen moments alone at our desks at random times, sometimes when we’re barely awake, and it can be so easy to forget that we described the mysterious stranger on the street corner, a minor character in Chapter 1, as a blonde with long hair when we wrote about her six months earlier, only to reference this person again in Chapter 7 as a ravishing redhead – unless, of course, you describe how she’s gone to her hairdresser for a dye job!
Others of us have our scenes and chapters all laid out in an outline and in one session, we might pop around writing a scene for Chapter 3 and then flit over to write another scene for Chapter 19. It can be easy to lose track of details if we don’t write it all down in an organized way that’s easy to reference as we write or as we outline our stories so that we can go back and refer to these details!
Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, being consistent with your facts is important and vital to the credibility and flow of your story.
Another time, I’ll tell you about the software I use to help me outline my novel and document my facts, but if you have a way to keep your writing organized, please share in the comments.