Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Writer's Notions

by Roseanna M. White

I don't know about you, but I tend to make assumptions. Not just about people, but about the ways things are...and the way things were. For a historical writer, that can be dangerous, LOL.

Back in the day when writing was just fun, when it was my way of winding down and expressing pent-up emotions, I didn't always bother researching like I should. And that's okay, since it was just for me. But one of the reasons I sometimes let that slide was because I would find things that contradicted my assumptions...which changed my story...and I had no clue what to do with that.

Once I determined to write for publication, though, that laziness had to go. And when I found contradictory information, I had to learn how to integrate it into my plot. Sometimes it's a simple matter of tweaking this or that. It changes things, yes, but nothing huge. Other times, though...other times it affects the whole premise.

I ran into this in the early days of Ring of Secrets. When I got the first niggle of an idea to base a book around the historical Culper Ring, America's first spy ring and the most trusted intelligencers of George Washington during the Revolution, I had these ideas. And honestly, my first scratches of research bore it out. That they were low-tech action heroes. James Bond with earlier gadgets. Jason Bourne during the Revolution. I rubbed my hands together and though "Oo, this is going to be fun!"

Then I got down to the serious research. As in, reading books instead of 200-word articles online. And as this portion of research is for me, it frankly involved some disappointment. Because I read actual documentation of the Culper Ring, you know what I found? That these weren't super spies. They weren't even trained. They had no history with espionage, their codes were flawed, they had nothing to do with the biggest event of the Revolution--Benedict Arnold's capture--even though those websites had led me to believe they had, and all the things they did help with were fairly small to my way of thinking, and spread out over a year. That doesn't exactly qualify as high-action for a romantic suspense.

So as I read my primary research book, Washington's Spies by Alexander Rose, my mind had to churn through my whole premise again. Did I want to write this book in a new way? Did I want to let go of my assumptions? Could I write the book under the banner of the facts, or should I forget the historical basis and make up my own spy ring?

There was some waffling in my mind. Because at first, I really didn't like reality, LOL. But I have this deal I make with myself when writing historicals: facts are sacred, motivations are up for grabs. I never, ever let myself change actual history, the events recorded by observers. (Okay, so I might fudge the phase of the moon now and then, but I beg forgiveness for that, LOL.) But I do let myself alter why people did the things they did, figuring that historians are only guessing about the reasons anyway. Even when people record their motivations, are they always honest? Who knows. So I can do with those what I will. But here? Could I work within those parameters here?

I kept reading, and the more I read, the more I got a grasp on what would become my absolute favorite part of Ring of Secrets. The very thing that made me moan and groan became my new, better premise. Because I realized that I didn't need super-spies in my book. I needed people. Normal, everyday people who were doing something extraordinary. And that is what the Culper Ring turned out to be. They were sickly farmers, they were nervous shopkeepers, they were over-confident sailors and soldiers with absolutely no grasp on how to accomplish this task assigned to them. They were creative and inventive and determined...and terrified. 

And that, with this book as with many other I've written, turned out to be the most amazing thing. Because my assumptions tend to simplify things. My vision starts out so narrow. But when I embrace the facts and let go of my notions, I discover what God's vision had been at the time. And needless to say, His is so much richer. So much fuller. So much better than my imaginings. 

It's my prayer that Ring of Secrets can show readers just a portion of what the real, original Culper Ring accomplished during the Revolution. That they were people just like us who stepped up, who fell to their knees, who put aside their fears...and who changed history forever.


Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing or reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband

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Come back on Friday when Roseanna teams up with The Borrowed Book to give away a copy of her latest release!


  1. And THAT is why you write the good stuff!!!! :)

  2. I love Roseanna's work - Ring of Secrets is a fabulous novel! :)

    Roseanna, I think your discovery, and your attitude toward the story, made your book wonderful. :) This is a great article! Thank you for sharing!


  3. Love this!!! Thanks for sharing ... I have a similar approach when writing historical, so this really makes me want to check out your book! :-)

  4. I'm being totally selfish when I say I'm glad for your thirst for knowledge because it feeds my TBR pile :)


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