Good morning! It’s time for your Teachers Write Tuesday Quick-Write, and our guest today is the brilliant Martha Brockenbrough. Martha is the author of The Game of Love and Death, a Kirkus Prize finalist, as well as the forthcoming Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary, and Love, Santa. She teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, founded National Grammar Day, and likes dogs and cats equally well. Martha continues our focus on research today with some more great resources!
Getting started is often one of the hardest parts of writing—or anything, really.
Because I write fiction and nonfiction for a variety of ages, I’ve faced a lot of blank pages. One of the best ways I’ve found to get started is to have a little bit of help. Writing prompts in general can be useful. And I find all sorts of them in research, whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction.
Here are some of my favorite places to dig up research-based nuggets:
The New York Public Library Digital Collection: This is a huge archive full of images, newspaper clippings, and other documents. This link is to the last letter Alexander Hamilton wrote his wife before he was shot to death. It’s fascinating all by itself. But it also makes a writing prompt: Consider writing your character’s last letter to someone he or she loves. That someone can be a child. An exceptionally gifted pet. A criminal who needs to receive on a secret message. Or it can be something your main character receives.
Internet Archive: This site has a variety of digitized media, including old newsreels and audio reels. When I was researching The Game of Love and Death, a historical novel set in 1937, I used video of the Hindenburg tragedy as the basis for a scene.
I’d listened to the audio recording of it in a chemistry class when I was 12, and remembered it always because it was so vivid (which is why it’s not for every student. Still, it’s interesting.)
One of the first things I did when I decided to set the book in 1937 was look at a list of things that happened that year.
As your story prompt, search on a year (or use the one your story takes place in, or the year a character was born). Find a great vintage photo like this one, and write about someone in it receiving the best news of their life—which they are unable to enjoy. https://archive.org/details/1937KSUcollage
One of my pet peeves is the preponderance of full moons in movies. With The Game of Love and Death, I took care to make every moon phase accurate. It became a good creative constraint. What did my characters think when they looked up to the sky and found it empty of moon?
Your assignment: Look up the moon phase on your character’s birthday, or some other significant date in your story. (If you don’t have a work in progress, choose a date like your own birthday!) Write a scene about a character doing something in the light of that moon. And as always, feel free to share a snippet of what you wrote in the comments!