Fill In the Blanks

Post written and copyrighted by Doris McCraw

doris curiosity

How do you fill in the blanks when you don’t have all the information? Do you make something up? Perhaps you make an educated guess. You may even spend countless hours trying to find the answer. Whichever one you choose is the correct one for your project?

Let’s take a look at how you might answer.  If you are a fiction writer, it makes perfect sense to make something up. It is your story, so of course you put in what you think works. Then of course there is the historic fiction writer, the horror writer and so on. There are certain rules to what is and is not true in your universe and your readers will let you know if it is wrong.

If you are writing a memoir or creative non-fiction you may make an educated guess. That may or may not get you into trouble. You might also opt to research and find the best solution to your unknown. Do you tell the truth as you know it,  or the truth of those involved in the story? It is not always a comfortable choice.

If you are writing non-fiction it can be tricky. You can make an educated guess or you can research until you find an answer. Either way you could be called on your decision.

As I continue my journey with these early women doctors I come upon more and more blanks that have possible explanations. The fact that between 1880 and 1890 women are not listed in the professional section of the city directory, but you can find them individually in the regular listings. There also was no real growth in the number between those years. Why? At this point I would need to make that ‘educated’ guess.

Why were three of the four early women doctors in the region graduates of the same medical school? (At least according the sparse records I have found.) Did someone from this region go back there and recruit them or did one arrive first and tell the other two about the region and the opportunities available? I may never know the answers unless someone from the families has letters or knowledge of the facts.

Finally, why are the women physicians left out of the histories, the newspapers and other writings of the day? These questions plague and fascinate me. It is what drives my desire to bring these women to life for the present and future generations. I may never be able to fill in all the blanks, but I will give it one hell of a try.

How do you fill in your blanks? I would love to know.

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Below is the link to my non-fiction piece on the first state film commissioner in the United States included in this book.

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21 thoughts on “Fill In the Blanks

  1. Doris, what a great question. I write historical fiction (1920’s) and am amazed at what I can and can’t find. While I can create my plots, I work very hard to keep the details of the time and settings as accurate as possible. I just know if I fudge something or fill in a blank wrong, someone will let me know. Thanks for the great post.


    1. Thank you Erin for the feedback. Historical fiction is so fun to read, but when they get it wrong, I just want to stop reading. To me the story is made that much better by the little details of the time period. Readers do catch those things and let us know.


  2. This is a great post Doris and one I had trouble with when writing Inzared. While all the names in my story are true Roma Gypsy names I really needed something unique for my main character. Nothing I researched or came up with fit so I spent a couple of hours brainstorming and trying different letters and I came up with Inzared. While it’s not a true Gypsy name it has the feel of a circus performer. I also missed on a couple of things I did research but must have been asleep when I read the information but readers set me straight on historical facts.


    1. Linda, you have to love your readers. I truly do believe they want their stories fun and full of correct facts. I know I don’t like making mistakes, but appreciate being able to correct them. I think the really great writers make sure the facts are correct and are so seamless in incorporating them into the story the reader doesn’t realize they are getting a history lesson. Doris


  3. I try not to let myself get into situations where there are blanks that need filling in. When writing fiction, I use scenarios with which I’m mostly familiar. When writing poetry and creative nonfiction, I tell the truth as I know it.


    1. Abbie, I think that is the beauty of poetry. It is a story in itself. For me, writing historical fiction and non-fiction I do have a lot of blanks.
      Thanks for stopping by and adding your insight. It is much appreciated. Doris


  4. I spend a lot of time researching, even on things that I believe to be true. I want to be sure. Even in fiction, things have to be true. I’ve read some fiction where people put in anything they want even if it’s a far stretch from believable. I have a hard time with that. I want my stories to be much more interesting than real life, but I don’t want people shaking their heads in disbelief. Interesting. It’s a hard job. LOL Cher’ley


    1. Cher’ley, I agree. Even those fantasy and steampunk are rooted in some sort of truth. Readers are a lot more intelligent than some folks give them credit for… and they keep us on our toes.
      I do have to say, research is a lot of fun, if time consuming. (Smile) Doris


  5. Writing fantasy I have the luxury (or responsibility) of being able to make up lots of things. My angelic world is based in mythological tradition, however, and I’ve tried to incorporate actual bits of mythology into my story–making free with some things and reinterpreting what other bits mean. Like poetic form, working with specific information, whether that’s historical fact or tradition, helps gives us a framework or limitations in which to exercise our creativity. Doris, are you writing nonfiction or historical fiction about the women doctors?


    1. I am writing non-fiction at this point, but do find myself using some of the research in my fiction. Sorta cross-pollinating.
      I do find that even in created worlds the readers want consistency in their worlds. Gotta love those readers. Doris


  6. Great post, Doris, and very thought-provoking. My children’s stories are “fiction based on fact” so I’m able to make up some things that fit the theme and direction of the story. One part of my first book, Sage’s Big Adventure, involved Sage as a puppy, and because I didn’t know how many pups she grew up with nor what her first home (as an 8 to 10 week old was like), I based it on the family I did know she had: a home with three young children. I recently had to correct an “oops” in a magazine article I wrote, and luckily I caught the mistake before deadline! Sometimes even “educated guesses” can be wrong and I believe the writer with integrity lets his/her editor know the mistake and corrects it — and it helps if that mistake is corrected before going to print! Thanks for an excellent post!


    1. Gayle,
      I thank you for you kind and supportive words. Facts and choices do get tricky, but like you I believe that trying to find the truth and making it known, no matter where you are in the writing process is a good thing.

      I love that the educated guess about Sage was probably as close to the truth as you could get without being there. You used the information you had and make the leap based on that. To good use I might say. Doris


  7. Very good question, Doris. Of course, we all know the answer to this question. Women professionals were never taken seriously. I can’t imagine the insults given to a woman who wanted to pursue a career in a man’s world. I am sure she experienced grief from both male and female. Thank you for this post.


  8. Very good question. Of course, we all know the answer. Women professionals in history were taken seriously. I imagine both genders had problems with outspoken, intelligent woman who actually wanted a career! How dare they!


  9. Very good question. Of course, we all know the answer. Women professionals in history were taken seriously. I imagine both genders had problems with outspoken, intelligent woman who actually wanted a career! How dare they!


  10. You raise an interesting question as to why women physicians were omitted from the writings of the day. I pulled out my ancient master’s thesis and found the following sentence: Carey McWilliams, bemoaning the book “which firmly established the Mission legend in Southern California,” describes [Helen Jackson] as “a goggle-eyed, umbrella-packing tourist . . . little, plump, fair-skinned, blue-eyed Helen Hunt Jackson, . . . forty-nine years of age, bubbling with enthusiasm, full of rhymes,” who “as might have been expected, . . . first became interested in Indians while attending a tea party in Boston.” I get wrought up about McWilliams’ comments nearly thirty years after first reading them. The rule seemed (seems?) to be, Ignore uppity women, but if you can’t ignore them, ridicule them instead. Mrs. Jackson was difficult to ignore. I remember a newspaper column in which James J. Kilpatrick spoke of financial columnist Jane Bryant Quinn’s shaking her curly locks (when she was on a panel on national TV, I think). That was in the ’70s or ’80s, and Mr. Kilpatrick really should have known better. Well, there’s my rant for the afternoon. Anyway, I’m glad you’re working to set some records straight.


    1. Kathy, I almost went through the computer at McWilliams comments. Even when you know them, those statements are cruel. I wonder were they scared or just plain stupid. I can so join you rant. Thank you for your continued support. I shall keep digging and find what I can, for even if they didn’t cure the ‘common cold’ they were still out there following a dream and doing what they loved. Doris


  11. You are raising some brilliant questions there, Doris. It’s such a heady feeling when one of those blanks has an answer!


    1. Nancy, you are so correct. Thank you for the compliment, I love the brilliant questions. It may take a while, but I will do my best to bring these women to light. I can’t do any less than they did. (Grin) Doris


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