I'm wanting to write a novel taking place in the early to mid 1800s in the U.S...I need some info on things relating to settlers migrating to the west

Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#21
I read the abridged version of Lewis and Clark. The unabridged would be a difficult read as the language has changed considerably over the past 200 years. It would not be quite as difficult as reading the King James Bible but almost.
 
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Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#22
I never published but years ago I wrote a lot of historical fiction.
1. Join some on-line writer's groups. They have all kinds of useful information.
2. If you don't already know it, learn your mechanics - spelling, grammar, and punctuation. It's an essential tool of the trade. Especially in writing groups, they won't take you seriously if your chat postings are full of mechanical errors. Start simply by paying attention to what you write. You can catch most errors just by proof reading.
3. Research first. When you start to write, get the details right the first time. It's much more difficult to remove errors later.
4. Decide your setting and set up some infrastructure for yourself. Get maps, decide costumes and props (weapons, tools, animals), figure out where the different Indian tribes lived, etc.
5. Make yourself a list of names to later assign to your characters. Some names like John, James, William, Edward, Charles, and Henry never go out of fashion. Other names have a distinctly 19th century feel to them: Meriwether Lewis, Jedediah Smith, Abraham Lincoln. You don't have to get all of your names from the Old Testament, but a few will add a feel of authenticity to your book. Don't forget female characters. The best and easiest source of authentic 19th century American names is your research readings. Keep a list of first names and another list of surnames that you encounter in your readings, then mix them up so that fictional characters don't have historical names, unless you want your character to meet historical people.
6. I found it useful to outline my books before I started writing them. Others feel outlining crimps their creativity. I planned to write 20 chapters each of aprx 5,000 words. I outlined 16 chapters leaving myself some room to add more material later. My outline only indicated milestones - by the end of this chapter the story should advance to point X. I still had plenty of freedom to get there a variety of ways.
7. When you finally start writing, set yourself a goal like 1,000 words per day. That's about a page and a half depending on how you set your margins. The first three or four weeks are the hardest. Once you're in the habit of writing every day it gets easier. You know you have the necessary discipline when you feel guilty for not writing your 1,000 words yesterday so you actually do make it up today. If you can fall behind by two or three days and still make it up, you're on the right track. There will be days when the words just do not flow, and there will be days when you can write 3,000 words in half an hour. That's just the way it is. On your first draft it's most important to get words down on paper. Don't agonize over the difference between happy and glad at this point. You can agonize on subsequent drafts.
1. Any recommendations on good writing groups?

2. My original posts made me seem like grammatical dunce, and probably did not seem like creative writing material. Thank God, I'm not normally like that. If you really wanted to read a very small sample of writing I have done, I'd be more than happy to share, though I don't think you'd be interested.

3. I think I'm going to start the Journal of Lewis and Clark here in a minute on my lunch break...unless you have a different recommendation on which one I should start with. I think I'll get the fire part written as soon as I have some details on population density and building materials.

4. Most of my novel will take place on the great plains, though some will take place in and around the west coast. When would the quintisessential American Cowboy have become more prevalent in the Great Plains area?

One of the reasons I chose this setting/storyline is that writing dialogue is one of the hardest things for me to write, and I reckon that a lot of his trip will be a lonesome one. I feel I would do better to describe the main characters feelings and thoughts, than I would dialogue. I'm starting to believe that a first-person perspective would be the best one for this sort of solitary story.

Will the Journal of Lewis and Clark give me a good idea as to the slang that would be used? I would LOVE to write a novel in slang, like Samuel Clements did with Huckleberry Finn. I know that will be incredibly difficult, though.

5. Naming characters was always one of the hardest parts for me, as no matter how random they are, they either seem too random or not random enough. You present a great idea, though.

6. I feel like outlining crimps my creativity as well. I once tried to fill out one of those character development worksheets, and it was incredibly boring. I found that it kills any possible spontaneous ideas I may have.

7. I definitely need to force myself to just freaking write.

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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#23
Cowboys are well outside your window - post Civil War unless you go to Texas and then maybe in the 1850s. Spanish cowboys - vaqueros - were in California before the Gold Rush.

The Journal of Lewis and Clark was written with the idea that it would be submitted as part of a formal report to the president and Congress so no slang. It's full of misspellings and other examples of how the language has changed. Even the abridged version didn't remove all of them.

I never attempted a first person novel. There's a trick to it. You have to put yourself into your main character maybe circa 1860 and have him tell an autobiographical story - "I was born in 1811 in Missouri. My earliest memory is of my family dying when our house burned down when I was about four..."

I find dialogue very easy to write. Some of my novels were 75% dialogue which is one reason I never published. The perfect novel is supposed to be 1/3 each dialogue, narrative, and discription. Maybe I should have written screen plays instead. People have an innate need for conversation. People who live alone usually talk to themselves or to things. If your character sees something strange on the horizon he might say to his horse, "What do you make of that?" The horse won't answer, but it's a way for you to convey to your audience that the character is aware of something that he doesn't understand. If he talks to his horse often, it's a way for you to convey just how lonely he is. And if the horse dies at some point the audience will know that he has lost a close personal friend. You might find that dialogue get's easier with practice. Don't be afraid of it. You do it all the time.
 
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#24
I reckon I have to move my story post-civil war then. Does that mean I should change the sources I'm reading for information? Should I still read the Journal of Lewis and Clark?

Ultimately, I don't want to be limited to flintlocks and muskets I would like SAAs and lever actions, so I reckon that's when it would be.

I actually planned on having his horses behavior be a metaphor for a them within the story.

I think first person I'd the way to go.

I also have some source books already that may be good places to start, like Tough Trip Through Paradise, and other novels on early Montana territory history. Good places to start? Any recommendations?

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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#25
If you want cowboys, repeating firearms, outlaw gangs, and regular mail service/telegrams/railroads then go post CW. Lewis and Clark won't be so helpful. You can skip ahead to where they cross Montana both coming and going to get a sense of what it was like before white people showed up, but the Journal is no longer a priority source.

It's been done already that some stories play on the fact that the west was won within a single long generation. A person born in the early 1800s might be involved in the fur trade, travel the Santa Fe Trail, travel west with a wagon train, see several gold rushes, several Indian Wars, the coming of the railroads, and the rise of the cattle kingdoms and still be alive to see the end of the Indian Wars in the 1870s or '80s. Don't be afraid to retell a story. Every story has already been told. It's in how you tell it that matters.
 
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#26
If you want cowboys, repeating firearms, outlaw gangs, and regular mail service/telegrams/railroads then go post CW. Lewis and Clark won't be so helpful. You can skip ahead to where they cross Montana both coming and going to get a sense of what it was like before white people showed up, but the Journal is no longer a priority source.

It's been done already that some stories play on the fact that the west was won within a single long generation. A person born in the early 1800s might be involved in the fur trade, travel the Santa Fe Trail, travel west with a wagon train, see several gold rushes, several Indian Wars, the coming of the railroads, and the rise of the cattle kingdoms and still be alive to see the end of the Indian Wars in the 1870s or '80s. Don't be afraid to retell a story. Every story has already been told. It's in how you tell it that matters.
That is absolutely true. I will probably read the Montana parts of their journal, as Montana holds a place deep in my heart. It's a beautiful place, and I recommend you visit if you haven't already.

Have you ever heard of A Hard Won Life: A Boy on His Own on the Montana Frontier? I feel as though that might be a good source as well. I've needed an excuse to read these books. I've had em for years, but never got around to reading 'em. Any sources for the Great Plains post CW you can think of?

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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#27
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown covers all of the Indian Wars 1865-90. It gets a bit repetitive (every Indian War was the result of whites betraying Indians) so I suggest you read only those chapters that apply to Montana or wherever you set your story. Robert Utley's "Frontier Regulars" and "Frontiersmen in Blue" describe the army before and after the CW. The earlier mentioned "Men to Match My Mountains" and "New Lands, New Men" are more relevant to post CW than pre.

You can google "Montana gold rush" "Red Cloud's War" and "Sioux War of 1876" and I'm sure you'll find something online. I don't know much about cattle and civilian settlement in Montana.

You asked about trails earlier - the Bozeman Trail ran from Laramie Wyoming up along the front range to Montana (roughly along modern I-25). It featured prominently in Red Cloud's War.
 
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#28
"Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown covers all of the Indian Wars 1865-90. It gets a bit repetitive (every Indian War was the result of whites betraying Indians) so I suggest you read only those chapters that apply to Montana or wherever you set your story. Robert Utley's "Frontier Regulars" and "Frontiersmen in Blue" describe the army before and after the CW. The earlier mentioned "Men to Match My Mountains" and "New Lands, New Men" are more relevant to post CW than pre.

You can google "Montana gold rush" "Red Cloud's War" and "Sioux War of 1876" and I'm sure you'll find something online. I don't know much about cattle and civilian settlement in Montana.

You asked about trails earlier - the Bozeman Trail ran from Laramie Wyoming up along the front range to Montana (roughly along modern I-25). It featured prominently in Red Cloud's War.
Just went to Half-Price Books, where they're having 20% off anything in store, so I grabbed a few books that I think are extremely relevant to the topic. I got the following books:

"The Illustrated Directory of the Old West" by William C. Davis

"Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion" by Robert Morgan

"Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and the Wickedest Town in the American West" by Tom Clavin

"The Oxford History of the American West" edited by Clyde A. Milner, Carol A. O'Connor and Martha A. Sandweiss

"XIT: Being a New and Original Exploration, in Art and Words, into the Life and Times of the American Cowboy" by Caleb Pirtle and the Texas Cowboy Artists Association

Have any experience with or heard of any of these books? I skimmed each one pretty quick, and they looked pretty good.

Almost grabbed myself an old binding of "Life on the Mississippi" just for the hell of reading it.

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Chlodio

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Aug 2016
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#29
I'm sure those books will give you good service.
Earlier I mentioned Butch Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Gang. They were based out of Johnson County, Wyoming, between Sheridan and Caspar which is not far from Montana. If you want outlaws in your story, you might find some potential there. You can start with Wiki:
Hole-in-the-Wall Gang - Wikipedia
 
Nov 2018
32
St. Louis, MO
#30
I'm sure those books will give you good service.
Earlier I mentioned Butch Cassidy's Hole in the Wall Gang. They were based out of Johnson County, Wyoming, between Sheridan and Caspar which is not far from Montana. If you want outlaws in your story, you might find some potential there. You can start with Wiki:
Hole-in-the-Wall Gang - Wikipedia
Thank you for the info! I got a good sign about writing the book today. As I love Wyoming and Montana, when I spot the rare Wyoming license plate here in Missouri, and I see the person, I always strike up a conversation with them. As I left the book store with my source material, I saw him and stroke up a conversation. He told me that he's here because he's visiting family, but he's a professor of history at a CC in Wyoming. I asked him what his specialty was...The American Civil War, with a secondary focus of the American West. What are the chances of that happening?

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