Creating a Family Saga, FS1 - Creating the Village
They created a village in the valley
This weekend I realized it was time to sit back and "update" my information that I use as source material for the current series of stories under the label "The Kings of Oak Springs." In addition to being a "stand-alone" series of historical fiction stories, the stories must be true to the overall "The Homeplace Saga" series of stories and locations. In fact, at this point in time (we are between Episode 28 and 29), this series of stories IS where the details of the "Saga" is being carried forward. By this I mean: carried forward from the end of the "America Centennial at the Homeplace" collection of short stories. These stories ended late in 1875. "The Kings of Oak Springs" began in March of 1876… and are now into 1877. The modern series of stories are in the 1996-1999 period, and are held true, too, of course.
As I was working through the first part of the update, I realized that some of my writer friends, and other readers, might be interested in insights into what goes on "behind the scenes" to make these several stories in "The Homeplace Saga" coherent and consistent from story to story. So, in this article, I'm making my first attempt to share some of this with you.
These are stories about a community, a village, in an isolated valley in the southern Missouri Ozarks. The emphasis of "The Saga" is the relationships among not only the four pioneer families, but with all members of the growing village, Oak Springs and the surrounding Oak Creek valley, from 1833 when the first pioneers arrived in this virgin land as farmers. So, we need not only names for everyone, but ages, children, their ages, backgrounds on everyone, some character development… just for starters. The Civil War wiped out the town. Some returned, some didn't. New people and families arrived, and have been living there (some for 12+ years) as we enter 1877. Each year there were births, deaths, marriages, relationship changes. Besides families, there are the normal distribution of single folks, straight and not, eccentric and not, male and female, who make the village real, workable, and interesting. Family members intermarry, couples fight and break up, or makeup, and we want and need to include all of this in our stories. Join me in this journey.
New families arrived in the valley
Adding new people to the community
New people are added through births to existing families as well as folks moving into the valley from the outside either as individuals or as families. Births require a reasonable gender mix and appropriate time gaps in each family, as well as appropriate given names for the time. Note: I use lists created from actual census records of the period in the surrounding counties for both surnames and given names. I try not to duplicate given names in the same or nearby age groups, or regularly interacting neighbors or families. I seek to be realistic without creating unnecessary confusion with names.
For people moving in, it is usually based on needs of the upcoming story lines coupled with reasonable growth of the community based on the economic times in the country and the "county." The best example is that the Panic of 1873 has cut growth greatly in recent years, but as we now approach 1877, growth will pick up for a few years. For 1877 there will be 7 new families moving into the valley based on growth. One of these has already been introduced in the storyline. The others will be moving onto unoccupied farm land across the valley. Working with the maps I have created, they need to be placed appropriately as might have actually happened under the existing circumstances. Here, now, a new factor is that water wells can now be dug for each homestead. Previously, it was essential that they build near the creeks. One of the farmers is also a water well identifier and digger - as my own paternal grandfather was, in Iowa, many years ago.
This weekend I've been updating my records of school age children. One story line relates to the private, subscription-based elementary school in the community and the desire to add a high school in the upcoming years. My research indicates that is what was happening in this part of this state during this time period. Some young people have been sent off to Jefferson City or St. Louis, for example, to receive secondary and higher education. Public school legislation is still a number of years in the future. A thorough understanding of local and regional history is very important for historically accurate family sagas. This also suggests creating the incoming families with children of certain ages and genders to coincide with those already in the valley to have a balanced school attendance roster. Personal and religious beliefs of families may be written into these story lines, as well. A couple of "next generation" pioneer family members have been instigators of the school initiatives in the story lines.
A sample of the maps used here
Use of maps to help create a realistic physical setting for the stories
Certainly the relationships among key family members as well as their neighbors and friends are the heart of the stories told in a family saga. My viewpoint is, however, that a very realistic and even interactive physical setting is also an essential ingredient of meaningful family saga stories - certainly ones that extend over long periods of time such as "The Homeplace Saga." My research on the "family saga" genre of story-writing certainly supports this. I've written about it before, and will in the future in this series of articles, as well.
I created hand-drawn maps to support the story setting set in 1987 for the first novel that began creation of what has become "The Homeplace Saga" series. That novel was "Back to the Homeplace." That map has been expanded, detailed, added to through the subsequent novels, novella, short stories and supporting articles. This was especially true as I went back to 1833 in the story-telling to create "The Founding" series of short stories. Each had to be true to what was written in the first novel, but also "re-created" to support those "founding" and "first settlement" stories. What a challenge! What a great deal of fun and satisfaction, as well!!
One key premise of the original story in 1987 was that the family farm had been in the family for over 150 years. Writing that story, I came to be so totally devoted to the importance of that aspect of the story that I really "needed" to go back and tell more of that story. Those first three "founding" stories, in fact, have subsequently been published in a regional writer's organization annual anthology of short stories three years in a row. To firmly support these, the necessity of creating the details of this river valley, that subsequently became the Oak Creek Township (a six by ten mile piece of land), with rivers, creeks, streams, springs, waterfalls, cliffs and caves became paramount. The farmland across the valley was surveyed and the maps include the 640 acre sections that were settled with farms, forests and limestone hills characteristic of this part of the Ozarks. The location, though totally fictional, is defined as the northwest corner of Shannon County, Missouri, for example. The Oak Creek, that has a waterfall (for a mill), a pool at the bottom, and runs through the valley, with subsidiary streams and springs, is said to be a western tributary of the famous Current River of the region. [In reality, this region is basically a state park, and is only 5-6 miles wide where in the fictional story it is 10 miles wide, as another example of literary license used.]
My oldest daughter, and book editor (as well as graphic designer), Annette Lamb, helped me translate my hand drawing to digital maps using PowerPoint - which I never would have thought to use. I will share more on this process later.
*** to be continued *** see forthcoming FS 2 ***