“Thinking with Your Own Apparatus: Fiction Writers and History” was an interesting panel that in my view was equally applicable to historical and contemporary fiction. The bottom line has two parts: the essential details that give work authenticity AND the emotional truth of each character.
There were some excellent speakers on this panel, and I’ll mention 3:
Nalini Jones, who writes about India, described trips there in which she immersed herself in the experiences that her characters would have–living in an orphanage, attending AA meetings, riding the bus, etc.–in order to render the details of their lives but also to know what they felt.
Eugenia Kim has worked at using aspects of the Korean language to create authentic dialogue, but also studied the period of Japanese colonial history in Korea about which she was writing.
And Dolen Perkins-Valdez talked about the “emotional core” rather than the details of history. She told a great story about visiting the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia, an emotional experience for an African American. She tried to explain her emotions to her husband when she returned home, and he observed that she was experiencing something akin to what her character–a slave woman during the Civil War–must have felt.
Good advice from three good writers.