Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fact and Fiction: Part Two

Last time, we discussed how much liberty is permissible to take in your historically based novel. Today, we will discuss effective ways to research your historical fiction, to make it both factual and interesting.

As I read the reviews other authors receive for their novels, they often say something like this: “This novel immerses readers in the rich historical detail of Queen Elizabeth’s court.” Or. “This sweeping tale will envelop readers as it takes them from a Kentucky fort, through the vast wilderness, to the west; in search of true love.”
This is the kind of review one would hope to receive for a historical novel set in a specific time period. It conveys that the author was able to transport the reader into a different period in history and do it effectively.

So, how do we conduct research that will give us this end result?

There are many ways to research information that will convey accurately the period in history you wish to convey to your reader. I usually start my research by using one or both of the search engines, Google or Amazon. Using these I can find four or five well written books on any particular subject. Reading these is more effective than spending hours on the internet, thus saving time. While I read the books, I put sticky notes on pages that have useful information and photo copy them. After I have a compilation of pages, I sort them according to category, daily life, food, clothing, etc. Then while I’m writing the book, I can refer to my notes whenever needed.

Another method used by those who choose to use detailed chapter by chapter outlines, is to place your research notes under the particular chapter in which they will be used. For example, if the chapter has a character dressing for a ball, you would add notes on gowns of that era, the number of servants who would have assisted her, etc. This saves the trouble of having to search for the information in the middle of a scene. Compiling information ahead of time that you know you will need will save time when writing and will add to the richness of your work with accurate details.

Occasionally, you will find other works of fiction that have been written in the time period in which you are writing and you can utilize these tools as well. If you have a sound base of knowledge about the particular time period, your work will feel more real to the reader. There are many internet sites and books that deal with different periods in history. I have found the following to be most helpful:

1)“What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew” by Daniel Pool

2) “Everyday Life in the 1800s: A Guide for Writers, Students & Historians” by Marc McCutcheon.

3) Writers Guide to Everyday Life series - Check Amazon for titles on different time periods.

4) http://enchantedserenityperiodfilms.blogspot.com

5) http://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/social-customs-and-the-regency-world

Researching is an art in it of itself and it may, or may not, be something you enjoy. Yet, with every novel you write, it becomes easier. Conducting accurate research ahead of time will also make your writing more enjoyable.

Your turn. How do you conduct research? What tips do you have in this area? I look forward to your comments.

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