Since much of my writing is historical fiction, I read volumes to learn what my characters experience. I try to go to locations where my characters would have been. Those places are different now, but it helps to get a glimpse of a real place.
Whenever I can, I go a step further to make my details authentic. A current WIP takes place during the Civil War. Before I wrote a battle scene, I talked to firearms experts about the weapons of the day. I asked my experts about the smell of black powder, but couldn’t get a satisfactory answer. So I told my husband to ask some friends.
Word got around about what I needed, and a friend showed up with a black powder muzzleloader. He not only let me smell the powder, but he let me hold the gun and feel its weight in my hands. He taught me to load it and fire it. (Thanks, KB and Jim D!) I now know what it feels like to fire my MC’s weapon. I know the smell of black powder both before and after it’s fired. I know the kick to my shoulder and how frustrating a misfire is. At least I wasn’t facing down the barrel of an enemy when that happened!
When my character had his arm amputated as a result of the battle, I talked to amputees. But when my MC was going to be in water, I had to take that further step once again. I had my husband tie my arm—and I went in the water to see how it was to swim with only one arm. I had him time my swimming with both arms and again with one arm to see if and how much it slowed me down.
Taking these extra steps not only gives me authentic details for my stories, it’s a real kick—and not just to my shoulder!
What do you do to ensure you're providing authentic details?
Kathy Cannon Wiechman