I read Parallel Journeys by Eleanor Ayer in middle school as a summer reading assignment, and back then I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have, but now I can see how this is a prime example for writing tips. Now, I see how genius it is and actually want to reread it.
This is a historical novel, taking place during World War II. The story is told through the perspectives of two different people, and is actually a true story. Born just miles away from each other, Helen Waterford and Alfons Heck live very different lives. Helen is a German Jew, and is sent off to Auschwitz extermination camp, and Alfons is a high-ranking soldier in the Hitler Youth, ready to fight (and die) for Hitler and the Nazi movement. The story leads through both of their lives, up until after the war when they publicly met. These two perspectives show what it was like during the war from both sides, and how they saw each other.
One thing that I’d like to point out about this book is that it is accurate. As a historical novel, there are plenty of facts to check and so many myths and expectations that might not even be true about the time period. The writing of this novel must have taken way more preparation than I can imagine. Ayer does a great job of sticking to the facts and getting the real story straight, historically correct. Which makes sense, because it is a true story.
Look at your novel and look at what kind of research you can do. If there is loss in your story, maybe research the stages of loss and grief. If your story takes place in a real place, look into what a typical day is like in that place, when it gets dark out, what kind of trees are there. I just read a book where the characters went to a place that I used to live, and in the story it was 8:00 pm and it was just starting to get dark out. In reality, I know from experience that the sun sets at around 5:00 pm there, so it didn’t make sense to me. It’s the little things like that make stories real or not real.
Also, this novel is based on a true story. I don’t know personally if everything in the novel was exactly like how they went through it, since there is really no way I could. The point is, if you are going to write a story that is based on a real person, or a real event, make sure you have captured that story just right. Imagine if someone wrote a story from your perspective, and made it look like something completely different from what it was? Wouldn’t you be mad? And make sure that the person/people you are writing about are okay with it, and if not, maybe change it up a little or change the names and places. That way it’s still based on a true story and protects that person’s privacy and identity.
Sorry this is short, but I have ten minutes left before midnight. I said I would post every week day. So I need to wrap up. My challenge for you is to make sure you’ve gotten your facts right. Take one little detail in your novel and fact-check it. Look at a picture of what you are describing and make sure you really got it right. Look up how often it really rains in the place you are writing about. Then do that for every detail in the book. Yes, every single one. Devote an entire draft to it.
Secondly, look at your story and see if it is something that really happened. You might not realize that you’ve put in a story you’ve heard from a family member, or an experience that actually happened to you. I’ve actually gotten in the habit of hearing something perfect for a story, and immediately asking, “Can I put that in a book?”
It’s funny. People have actually started joining in because I’ve done it so much. They’ll hear something interesting and, while I’m in the conversation, go, “Kelli, you should write a book about that!” or, “Kelli will write a book about that for you.”
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!