Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Artifacts in a novel

A query question that came up in a recent conversation: I write historical fiction loosely based on my family's history. In my research, I found several authentic artifacts that I've worked into the narrative, and there are others, that could be borrowed, to help illustrate key elements of the story.

Examples include a copy of a handwritten resume that my grandfather prepared in 1919 as he got ready to return to Trieste after WWI. There's a photo of my great-grandmother's house just after it was destroyed by an Allied aerial bombardment; dust hangs in the air, and her body has not yet been recovered. 

(1) Could I use these in the novel?
(2) Would they make the book more appealing?
(3)Would it be appropriate to mention these in a query?

(1) If use as illustrations, no.
(2) No
(3) No

This is supplemental material that is useful for your website, but not your query or your manuscript. Right now your manuscript has to do the work.  If an agent is interested, and signs you up, of course you'll tell her about these items and see if it fits into her submission strategy.

I will tell you I've never offered illustrations or supplemental matter as part of an adult novel. Middle grade and YA, sure. Non-fiction, of course. Not novels.

To use one of my client's as an example: when Gary Corby sent me his manuscript for what became The Pericles Commission, it didn't have anything extra. The books now have maps, and an author's note, and a historical timeline. All those are wonderful for the reader, but the manuscript was what got me and it's what sold the editor.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

1. Yes, if your great-grandmother was gypsy Rose Lee.
2. Sure, if your target audience appreciates the history of exotic dancing.
3. Why not, especially if you include a few 8mm clips of Nanny in her prime.

DLM said...

2Ns: hee!!!!

(Janet - the book now "has" maps ...)

I write hisftic too, and for me artifacts - specifically, grave goods - were RESEARCH. Research is fascinating. It's even kind of fun allowing yourself to go down a rabbit hole a bit, every now and then. But I'm not writing a textbook.

The rule for research: it's like an iceberg. Only about 10% of it should show.

By the way, if I ever get to it, my third novel will be based on the early 20th century dissertation text that illuminates the Norman period history of my own family. Or, as I like to call it: family legend. The document that's inspired me isn't even part of the research, not really, and the story's going to have to be built from other sources. Family documents are FASCINATING. Every now and then, they're even worth a buck on Antiques Roadshow. But they're not the stuff of novels, not in themselves.

Colin Smith said...

... and Gary's "Author's Notes" are truly fascinating. I'm surprised he hasn't been offered a post teaching Classics somewhere. Not that he would accept (writing the books is much more fun, isn't it, Gary?), but to at least be offered would be nice. :)

Janet: How much of Gary's supplemental material was suggested by him vs. to him, or did the idea for the maps, timelines, and notes come out of editorial discussion between the three of you (you, Gary, and editor)?

Colin Smith said...


Everyone: Remember a few weeks ago, I said I would write a short story before Gary's latest, THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS came out (May 17)? Well, I did write that story, and just last night, I submitted it to a publication! :) It'll probably be a goodly while until I hear if it has been accepted, but just the fact that I completed the challenge is cause for a little celebration. Of course, while writing that story, I came up with ideas for more short stories, so hopefully this won't be the last.

Since I made the challenge to myself here in these comments in front of you all, I just thought I'd give you all an update, and thank you for your encouragement. All y'all are OSSUM. :D

DLM said...

Colin, GOOD LUCK!!!!

By the way, per my Redheaded Niece: the proper spelling for that word is OSUM. She also enlightened me that my cat's nickname is Gossie, not Gossy. One Obeys The Redhead, if one is wise ...

As for Gary's supplementals, I'm guessing he required little direction. I didn't query Ax with maps and so on, but on my very blog you can see the extensive, glossary-style Author's Notes, and I used to fantasize with my archaeologist brother about the beautiful maps he'd make for me ...

As for his teaching the Classics, he may be like me. I am adamant that I'm no historian, no matter how deep my research may make my knowledge appear. He may not feel that way; but actually, within the historical fiction community, there are always discussions about just how much expertise any author has a right to claim. It can be a contentious issue!

nightsmusic said...

What about if the person writing the novel is an artifact? Just asking for someone...

Cindy C said...

Good job, Colin! Setting a goal and then actually achieving it=priceless! (At least lately I can't buy it for love or money!)

When I first read the post I thought the OP's question was more about plagiarism --such as, would it be okay for her character to write a resume and use the actual resume her grandfather wrote. That would be fine, right?

Interesting to hear that maps, photos, etc. are best added later, after the query stage. I wonder if that's true for a book like Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, where those extras were such an important part of the book. (Sorry, I haven't read Gary Corby's books yet--they're on my TBR list, I swear!)

Donnaeve said...

I do love the little supplementals and extraneous doodads one can sometimes find in books. Like the pics in MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN.

There is a video on Youtube that I can't wait to share out on my blog. It'll be a while because it's relative to the WIP, but I swear, one young girl in it is my "vision," of my protagonist. Right down to her haircut and dimples. It was almost SCARY when I watched it b/c she looked like I'd pictured in my head - plus she's doing something I write about - talk about freaky. It's not supplemental material, but it's the first thing I thought about when I read this post. For some reason. Then again, my day yesterday WAS SCARY AND WEIRD, so my brain is likely not firing right.

OFF TOPIC: So. Mom fell yesterday. We had just talked on the phone and I told her I had to run an errand, so when it happened, she didn't call me b/c she knew I wasn't at home. She called a good friend of ours - THANK GOD for Myles Harmer - who was only 5 mins away - not an hour like I am. He took her to the ER, and when I got home I had one of "those messages" we all are so fearful of with aging parents. "Donna, I'm at the ER with your Mum (Myles if from South Africa.)

So, "Mum" came home with me last night with a badly bruised face (black eye to boot) and three stitches in her forehead. This was after I stopped at Walgreen's to pick up some things for her, and a guy dropped right in front of me having seizures.

Anywho, she's staring at me right now - which means I gotta go fix her breakfast. ;)

Donnaeve said...

Dang, Sisi - did it again! I'm channeling you. I was typing my comment and yes, it took ten mins (interruptions from my "guest.")

ALSO, congrats Colin (!!!) Good job on meeting your short story goal! Keep us posted.

Janet Reid said...

So, when Donnaeve's mum gets asked "holy smokes what happened!!??" how many of you want to have her say "the first rule of Fight Club..." Oh. Just me. Ok. (slinks off)

Cindy C said...

Donnaeve--you know what they say about great minds! So sorry to hear about your mom. Hope she's better soon. (And yes, it would be fun if she could quote the rules of Fight Club when asked what happened!)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I wrote a chapter about the area that became Konigsberg, East Prussia for my WiP. No characters! I guess I did a tiny channel of James Michener. That chapter has now been cut from my 2nd draft but bits and pieces of it live on in my current WiP.

As Diane commented above. 10%. *sigh* Not to mention my crit partners commented a couple times that my historical bits in the current WiP sound like a lecture. And cue, rewrite.

Colin: congrats! And keep us in the loop.

Colin Smith said...

A couple of you mentioned MISS PEREGRINE, and I have to say, that was the first book I thought of in relation to Opie's question. In concert with Janet's response, MISS PEREGRINE didn't need the spooky photos to support the story--it's a good story in it's own right. But those pictures, and, in fact, the whole experience of reading the print edition, is the icing on the cake. I imagine the design team had a field day with that novel. The print edition is just exquisite. I can't imagine reading it on an e-reader. :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Oh Donna, hope your mom is all right. Fight Club has its down side. Aging parents is tough.

Colin Congratulations- I have been thinking of cleaning up one of my short stories and submitting it. Good on you for actually doing it. Instead I am becoming acquainted with Gary Colby.

Queries are not the place for supplemental materials clearly. However, when time comes, I wish Panda could help me spruce up my maps for my fantasy series. The Carkoon map is just so wonderful.

Cheryl said...

More than once I've been directed to an author's site regarding something not a book they've put up and I've ended up reading their books.

But I'd say keep that picture handy when the time comes to discuss your cover.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Donnaeve-so sorry to hear about your mum. But she sounds quite the spunky, bounce-back kind of woman.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think having actual pieces of the story you're trying to tell is pretty incredible, but I think a website is a more appropriate place. And I love finding 'extras' on an author's website! I mean, I know it can get a little out of hand - Pottermore would be a little over-the-top for anyone other than JK - but it's still really fun.

Congrats to Colin for accomplishing your goal!

Donnaeve, I hope your mom heals quickly and your blood pressure lowers back to normal after getting one of 'those messages.' It can be frightening, that's for sure!

Joseph S. said...

Two readers (of the five) who read an early incarnation of my WIP suggested I include a map. I’m not worrying about the map at this stage but somewhere along the line I have to ask about it.

I’d love to include pictures but have assumed pictures are cost-prohibitive in a novel. I have one picture I wish could grace the back cover.

Donnaeve – While sitting in an (grimy) outdoor cafĂ© in Salvador, Bahia, researching setting and culture for my novel, I took a picture of a young woman who “was” Loira, my female protagonist. She even inspired the opening paragraphs of a later chapter. I shared the picture with three (of the five) readers. One wrote back, “That’s not what Loira looks like.”

Lucie Witt said...

Colin - congrats!

Donnaeve - I'm glad your mom is okay. Falls can be pretty scary. I also can't wait to see this video of little Dixie **stares at your blog**

I see why supplementary materials have little use in the query stage. Your book definitely has to stand without them. That said, I absolutely swoon over a well done map inside a book cover.

I'm sketching a map for my current WIP mostly just for my reference so I can remember how the hell I set up this damn fictional town. I wouldn't include it in a query, but I would tell my agent about it if I signed with someone.

Chuck Wendig has a new book coming out called Invasive and Harper made it look like ants are crawling out of the binding when you open the book. Stuff like that makes my book loving heart pitter patter.

nightsmusic said...

Colin, congrats! WOOHOO!!

Donnaeve, geez louise do I remember those days. I'm so glad your mom is okay and I think you should have a t-shirt made with the Fight Club saying on it. ;)

Joseph Snoe, I have a few authors who are must buys for me. One finally posted a picture of her story board after writing the first four novels. I was shocked to find the protagonist didn't look much like anything she'd described in the book and was so not what I'd pictured in my mind. Don't take it to heart. All readers see the characters the way they want to if you've written them deeply enough. It means they care.

Brigid said...

Colin, that's fantastic!

John Davis Frain said...

Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts, never drew the little red-haired girl (Charlie Brown's crush) because, he said, everyone has their own version of the little red-haired girl.

But don't Wiki me on that, I might be melding a couple facts to fit this comment thread!

Celia Reaves said...

Colin - congrats! Let us know what happens.
Donnaeave - scary, but it sounds like she'll be okay. Good vibes going out to both of you.

Back on topic...It's important to me that I have a clear picture of my settings and people as I'm putting the story together. I scour the Internet for photos of people who look like my characters and places that look like my setting. I have maps I drew on top of satellite images of my locations and floor plans I created of important buildings. I stare at the character photos while imagining dialogue, and walk my fingers through the settings while planning action. I know that nobody but me will ever see these, but they help keep me grounded and consistent. My job is to make the people and settings vivid for the reader with words, not pictures. The reader always has to fill in the spaces around our words, and every reader will fill them in differently. That's why it's often such a shock when seeing a film based on a book. That's not what that person/place/object looked like in my head!

Megan V said...

I also love the pictures in MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN (and in the rest of that series!) But, MISS PEREGRINE is also NOT in the adult category. (I'm hesitant about classifying it as either MG or YA because I personally feel it's one of those rare bridge books between the age categories).

When it comes to supplemental material though I'd think it'd be great to file it and have it ready. For one thing, putting it on a website sounds wonderful. And who knows? It might sneak its way into the book after all.

Karen McCoy said...

Hooray, Colin! Wishing you all the luck.

I went the non-traditional route and read MISS PEREGRINE via audio book. The story still stands well without the illustrations, though they are indeed a nice touch. But, as Janet said, the "manuscript has to do the work." (I may need to tack that quote to my wall.)

Whenever I come across artifacts like that, I tend to use them as creative inspiration--and even if the reader doesn't know where they came from in the novel, I do, and that's plenty. And yes, pictures are definitely a YA/MG thing (especially with interactive MG like 39 Clues).

Karen McCoy said...

Donnaeve--so glad your mom will be okay. It sounds like she and my 80-year-old father need to go bowling (Breakfast Club reference). One reason I moved closer was because he's falling ever more often.

Craig F said...

OOH, slideshows of vacations past and videos of your kids harassing the lions at the zoo. Such fun.

If you have hooked you readers enough that they wish to see such things put it on your website. To make people think of you as sitting at the right hand of Hemingway stick to the story but let those so inclined find out more of the world you are writing about.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think maps are pretty standard in a lot of fantasy these days - which seems unnecessary, since most fantasy lands are just Europe. (Careful with that link - it's easy to lose hours on that site!)

Off topic - I'm trying to make it through the day without slapping a developer or crying into my reheated coffee. Sometimes I think I'm just not paid enough.

Back on topic: I like Diane's 10% rule for research, but I don't know if I'd have the heart to do that much research and include so little. That's probably why I write fantasy - I can make most of it up! :)

Well, not entirely. I mean, dragons and magic are all well and good, but if my soldier is wearing Roman-empire-era armor and a Babylonian-like weapon, God help me.

BJ Muntain said...

When I was reading what the artefacts were, I was thinking text, not images. In the novel, a description of the resume - perhaps even the wording from the resume itself - might be pertinent to the story. A more detailed description of the destroyed home could be very appealing, especially if the reader knows there's a good chance the protag's loved one is in there.

Not in the query, of course.

Adult fiction is not an image-based medium, for the most part. Images can detract from the immersion of the reader, especially if they're interspersed in the story. A map at the beginning or end, though, can often be useful, especially in fantasy where the world-building is so specific. But again, that's not for the query stage.

One of my projects is non-fiction based on a piece of family history that would probably have public appeal. Unfortunately, it wasn't the sort of situation where a family might keep artefacts, especially in a place and time where photography was not that common and the family was not well off.

John Frain: I heard that about Shulz's red-haired girl.

Julie Weathers said...

To the original poster, what a sad story. I can imagine how heart-rendering that photo of the house is, knowing a beloved grandmother's body is in the rubble.

I wish you well with the story. The supporting materials would make good additions on blog posts.


Congratulations and good luck!


Scary stuff for your mother. I hope she's doing well and kicked the snot out of her opponent.


That isn't uncommon. I'm amazed at how many people get into strident arguments with authors about what their characters look like. You would think the author knows what they look like and will often go back and pull a description out of a book and people still argue with them.

I was asked to do a map for Far Rider and did. I detested doing it, but I did it. Someday I'll go back and do a better one, but at least people know where the different kingdoms are.

I had always envisioned a collage of pictures of the cowgirls for Cowgirls Wanted, but of course, an author has no input on covers. Still, it's nice to dream.

I've had several people suggest I should think about a bibliography for Rain Crow, which I am not terribly fond of, but I'm keeping a list of my source material. One well-known historical author just refers people to her Librarything site when they ask about her research material.

I certainly wouldn't mention anything in the query. Research doesn't matter a whit if the story isn't compelling.

nightsmusic said...

Bethany Elizabeth, it's fantasy? So why not the sword? You're building the world. If it was historical fiction then yes, you'd have a big problem, but not in a world of your own. That's the way I see it anyway. But that's me. What do I know? I'm thinking, not much lately...

Lennon Faris said...

I've got to admit, the thought of all the 'extras' from any story excites me. It shows passion and excitement and can sort of sweep you up in it. I love going to an author's website and finding these things! But, I know not to include it anywhere near the query stage.

Donna - I'm glad to hear your mom is doing OK. Hope she continues to feel better. Hope your day is less kooky today.

Colin - that's so exciting! Congrats on accomplishing your goal.

Bethany - hope your day improves! Sometimes I write down instances from 'real' life so that I can incorporate them into my stories later. Some people's ability to drive me absolutely batty has to be good for something, right? There might be a little vindication there, too :P

Unknown said...

Colin- Nice! Have a second beer to celebrate!

Donna- I'm glad things turned out okay with your mother.

I also like Diane's 10% rule and think these artifacts could help the OP work towards it. Somehow you can tell the submerged mass of ice is there even when you can't see it. A great example for me is the first three Star Wars movies vs. the second three. For the first movie, George Lucas invented entire languages that surfaced only briefly (and without subtitles). In the fourth movie, he just had the bad-guy space-trader fish people speak English with a Cantonese accent. Maybe he was having too much fun playing with CGI to be bothered.

After I finish the next revision of my sci-fi WIP, I'm thinking about writing some non-fiction about the future Earth and Mars on which it is set as a way to occupy my time while I let the manuscript breathe.

Dena Pawling said...

When I open a book and the first few pages include a map (or several) and especially a list of names or "foreign" words used in the story, I usually put the book back on the shelf. I don't have patience to keep referring back to those pages, and I've learned that in about 80% of those books, or more, the reader is required to refer back, if they want any hope of following the story.

So in my admittedly biased opinion, if you *need* those things, the story is lacking. And when I see those things, I always assume they're needed. I usually don't give the book the opportunity to prove me wrong.

DeadSpiderEye said...

It would just be fantastic if illustrations made a comeback in novels, Alice B. Wood gives me a jolt every time, especially her sublime line work. Half tone still seems to be a problem for in-line illustration, on the standard stock, so we're talking inserts for historical photos and documents. Specifying pagination is pretty much impossible, even for perfect binding so it'll be a discrete few pages with the pretty pictures. That's okay for non-fiction, no so sure about how it works with fiction though.

Adele said...

My first copy of Lord of the Rings just had the text. Much later, I got another copy that had a map in it. It was a rotten map - they had put all the different countries in the wrong places! I was so disappointed I found it hard to read the text again.

Nowadays - I think since digital technology has made it just as easy to print graphics as text - we're getting more and more of these extras. I don't mind them as long as I see the visuals first, so they form my idea an object's appearance, and I do enjoy a good map - like that one of Carkoon - just for itself, but the text should stand alone.

Colin Smith said...

First, thank you everyone for your congrats and well-wishes. And you know I'll keep everyone posted on my adventures in short stories and novels. :)

Second, question for Janet: Are we (or some of us, at least) making an assumption that these "extras" are a big, potentially prohibitive cost for the publisher? It seems to me most people like maps and "stuff," so the opportunity to add them might be an expense the publisher is willing to risk for the pay off in reader appeal.

Julie Weathers said...

I enjoy maps in books.

Tolkien put in a tremendous amount of research into his work. A lot of it is very much based in history and mythology. Part of the appeal of Rothfuss is it feels like the magic system is so real and he's based much of on his chemistry background.

The problem is not too much research in my opinion, it's in weaving it in artfully. If a writer does it right, the reader doesn't realize what he's reading is the product of research. If it's clumsy, it's like reading a wikipedia page.

Donnaeve said...

Thank you all for your thoughts and well wishes regarding my daredevil mom! She is definitely Ms. Independent, and I told her if she wants to continue to BE Ms. Independent, she needs to quit falling on her face or her a**.

She looked at me and said, "You know, on some people I can't tell the difference." **insert Donnaeve shocked face**

She has fallen one too many times for my liking. THANK the big wide open heavens she hasn't broken any bones. She's back home - where she wants to be - and tomorrow my brother will be there.

Joe Snoe - I get it. It's what I think she looks like...but...

And actually Lucie...the Youtube vid is for my other book. Boo, Donna.

Back to editing ya'll!

Joseph S. said...


Use the girl in the video as your model. It helps in so many ways in writing her actions and reactions.

I scoured the internet looking for an image of one of my bad guys, a twenty-something Australian. I found a perfect face. His picture was on the web because he severely injured six men in a barroom brawl in Germany when his rugby team flew there for a tournament. I said, Yep, that's my Dazza.

I need to find that picture again now that I'm revising.

BJ Muntain said...

I'm sorry. Somehow I missed Donna's mother's fall.

It's scary, I know. Wishing her the best of health, and wishing you some calm for awhile.

And good luck, Colin!

Where There's A Quill said...

OP, I like Janet's idea to include these artifacts on your website. They're genuinely interesting, and they'll serve as great promotional tools.

If a writer does it right, the reader doesn't realize what he's reading is the product of research.

Then there are the times when I feel the author actually wants me to think, "Oh, you've clearly done so much research". That drives me crazy.

About five edits ago, I forced myself to delete an entire chapter and two characters. They started off as a way to show another aspect of a featured culture but just became mouthpieces for my research, a way of saying look at this culture I know so much about. I'm really glad I made the omission. Putting the culture "on display" like that did it a disservice, which was the complete opposite of what I wanted to achieve.

Personal writer mantra: Serve the story, not your ego.

Colin Smith said...

One more thing... speaking of artifacts on websites, do you remember the OLD Back when the Potter books were still coming out? The puzzles that rewarded you with clues, drawings, scraps of back story, handwritten early drafts, etc.? That was cool and fun. That is the way to do "artifacts" when you have the money to spend. :)

A couple of my kids have Pottermore accounts, but it's not the same.

Donnaeve said...

thanks Joe Snoe - good idea!

I forgot to mention to Fight Club, I mentioned QOTKU's comment to Mom earlier this morning and I got this:


cleemckenzie said...

Interesting. I'd never even considered adding an artifact to a submission. Maybe I just didn't have any. I do like finding maps in books that have other-world stories. They help me see where I am.

Lennon Faris said...

Colin - "It seems to me most people like maps and "stuff," so the opportunity to add them might be an expense the publisher is willing to risk for the pay off in reader appeal." - my impression was that those things ARE desired for certain material, but that it just isn't appropriate to bring it up at the query stage. Like, knowing you want to have 3 kids, but *not* mentioning on the first date :P

Also, I'd like to nominate WTAQ's "Serve the story, not your ego" as a subheader nom. It's such a painful, but necessary, truth when editing.

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Oh, absolutely--I wasn't thinking at all about the query stage. I was talking generally. :)

AJ Blythe said...

Just googled Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children as I've not heard of it before. Have added it to the list of books to get Heckle (and then I can borrow it).

Donna - Hope your Mum continues to recover. And that your nerves steady knowing your brother is there with her.

Colin - Congratulations on achieving your goal. Fingers crossed they love it, although knowing your FF work I can't imagine why they won't. Be sure to keep us updated.

Quill - Totally agree with you. Readers shouldn't be able to tell the research. I dislike books where it 'switches' to the research.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: If you can, get the hardcover edition of MISS PEREGRINE. It's a good story, but the HC is best for the full sensory experience... :)

John Davis Frain said...

If you're getting the book for Heckle, does that make you Jekyll?

I'll Hyde now.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, thanks for the heads-up. Will see if the library has it.

John, Jekyll is probably more appropriate, but it's actually after this Heckle and Jeckle.

Anonymous said...

Donna, I hope your mom is okay and that the bruises fade fast.


Janet, how does the QOTKU, a majestic shark, slink off?