a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: Getting Ready to Write -- Fiction

Friday, August 20, 2021

Getting Ready to Write -- Fiction

SUMMARY: Beforehand it's research but, like,  fun!
(Started in a comment on an artist's post about an image he created.)

1860s cowboys or cavalry?
More photos of dress from that era
In a private group, an artist posted a style sheet for a character in his [wild-west-magical-realism] graphic novel--the man's appearance, every angle, every expression in which he had drawn him. He adds another sketch to it every time he draws some other angle or expression or clothing view.

I liked seeing that. 

It startlingly echoed the for-fun fan fiction (FFFF?) project I'm working on that takes place in the 1860s-'80s "wild west" using characters, names, and tropes from the original author of a trilogy (which I talked about a little here), intermingled with true history and familiar tropes of wild-west time and place.  In other words, fan fiction/historical fiction that gives verisimilitude to both universes that readers of either might recognize and yet is different from both. 

I'm a writer, not an artist particularly but, like [the artist], I need to decide--before plunging into writing--who and what will be in the story, what they look like and their backstory, whether a  person or a town.

So I'm up to my eyeballs in [internet] research on what real cowboys really wore during that time and gold- and silver-rush mining Colorado (and other areas up and down the Rockies) mining towns when they start up and then after a few years, and from among the images, descriptions, and explanations, I need to pick what style goes with each character or location.  I can also invent anything about anyone or anyplace, but this is supposed to be a "short" for-fun fiction so I don't want to have to invent very much but I also don't want it to take place in the author's original time and place nor in the actual wild west (if there ever was such a thing).

What the previously nonexistent Virginia City looked like
in 1867, seven years after the discovery there of the Comstock Lode.

And then 10 years later at its peak of estimated 25,000 residents.
Fifteen years after that, the population had dropped to 6,000. 
40 years later, about 600. About there it has been ever since.

In other words, this is an Alternate Universe of the American west and ditto of the original books.

And of course I track what people and towns and buildings and landscapes look like; I don't want Billy to accidentally have green eyes somewhere where they've been blue all along (not that kind of story: no magic). 

I'm sharing this info with an artist who came up with a single idea and location and set of characters (same wild west/original fiction) and is creating a painting of it.  I'm building the story around that, but we are currently going back and forth on what the artist's vision is and how I want to work with it, so it's important to record and share details. He's even given me a floorplan layout of the building in which his particular scene in the story takes place--which is extremely cool, because then I don't have to invent a layout myself and try to remember it.

I've shared wayyyyyy more details than he probably wants, although he says it's fascinating and he never expected he'd learn so much from doing a one-off image for fun.

My point was: I have a lot of text notes about clothing choices--style and color and how they wear them--hair styles, attitudes towards others and each other,  where they're from originally so how they talk--likely mostly the same sort of thing that [an artist goes] through. 

I won't have actual sketches, but I do track how I expect they'll react in certain situations and how that would be expressed in body, face, and gestures. It's fun.  BUT it's also fun because I'm reusing the original author's fully realized characters, so I don't have to invent most of this.

And I think I'm within a day or two of starting to spew story onto the [digital] page. I already know more or less where I want it to go, but I can't keep saying, "he made his way through waist-high shrubbery"--I want to know what kind of vegetation is actually out there where he'll be riding. Oh, I know, sage brush and all that, but of course that's not true everywhere. So much easier to know these things before I start putting sentences and scenes in writing than to go back later and fill in a lot of [insert here some appropriate river name between uh... [sometown1] and [sometown2]].

Our deadline is October. I've barely ever done any collaborating historically, and this *is* for fun, so I'm trying to remain relaxed about it.

Hey, [in my online post to the original artist] I think I just wrote myself a rough draft of a blog post. 

Instead of actually writing on the story...?!?!


Town images: See them on Wikipedia at Virginia City, Nevada and Deadwood, South Dakota. Click each image for source details.
Cowboy image: Is currently on a Pinterest board, so I hope it doesn't go away...  I have saved an actual copy just in case.

Deadwood, S.D.,  the year someone discovered gold there.
These towns were not like we see them in Westerns. Muddy, grubby, horse manure everywhere...

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