Do you write Historical Fiction? Writing historically accurate fiction starts with RESEARCH.
Well, duh! I know that!
What most writers forget is that they take for granted a great many aspects which can lend more credence to their works, as well as a better experience of the story they want to put forward to readers. Additionally, if you want to be considered historically accurate, you must behave as a historian–do you due diligence. Can it always be done? Some things might slip past you. No human is perfect. Try your best. This series is going to help by presenting articles of interest from around the internet and get you started on the research necessary to complete an amazing manuscript.
Cite your sources. That is my first nugget of advice in this installment of Writing Historical Fiction. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you’re going to quote, directly or indirectly, you must provide information about the source from which you got that quote/information. If you fail to do so, you are plagiarizing. Plagiarism is a very serious issue, of which, it has more recently come to my attention, younger writers seem to be ignorant. I’m not calling them stupid, not by any means. The information, for some reason or another, has not been provided to them.
Citing sources in foot/endnotes was a loose part of my coursework through high school. It wasn’t all that hammered in by my undergraduate professors either. Amazing! You see, so this is why a lot of people have no idea what they’re doing as far as citing sources in a publication. Whether it is journal, blog, newspaper, book or whatever publication, you must always cite sources. As an author, I took it upon myself to pay attention to the warnings that I had received. They served me well, but I can see how the lack of emphasis upon citations has affected many in their careers and education goals. Several times a year students all across the country are brought up on plagiarism charges. Most are copying work from other students or downloading documents online. Some have no clue this is wrong, most don’t care because they want to skirt the work.
When I did research for any of my coursework and books, I took notes in a separate word document. The header of each section was the bibliographic citation of the work in which I was taking notes, followed by quoted snippets and page numbers. Each source was handled in this manner, keeping everything nice and neat.
How did I do the bibliographic citations? Remember my entry on Libraries (17)? I spoke briefly about using Flow. There are a number or services available to you online. They do cost, but they’re worth the cost, as they help keep you from getting sued later for plagiarism. Some software may be available for download, so you don’t have to remember another sign on. I recommend shopping around and finding a product that suits your need. Do you need just a bibliography tracker? Perhaps you would like one that manages your notes as well. There are choices that can provide you with all of that.
So you have your bibliography manager. Did you know that in most cases you can open up a book’s page online and press a button to include it like the snap of a finger into your bibliography? No fuss, no muss. It’s a great feature offered by Flow. Then you can export your list to a word document and use each listing, as I mentioned above, as a header for your notes. Your reading might be slowed by taking notes while you read, but I found it helped reinforce the information. If you are more comfortable with flagging the page, or dog-earing the corner and highlighting, that is cool too. You might be using a kindle, and you can make notes right on the kindle and export those out.
So, you might be wondering, what do I need to cite? Any direct quotes will require a citation note. Those are the ones you find in quotations marks, just to be clear. Simply copying and pasting a line without quotes will not remove the need to cite that source. That is exactly what plagiarism is. You cannot do this and, unfortunately, many students make the mistake. They also believe that if you change a couple words via thesaurus, that it’s altering the sentence enough to make it their own. That is also untrue. You would still need to cite it with a note.
When you completely overhaul an idea into all new words to explain it, I often cite these as well, because the idea is something that you took from someone else. Plagiarism is a very serious issue in writing and an author should do all they can to avoid committing such a faux pas. The act is considered a crime and will impact your integrity for the rest of your career. It is so serious that almost all professors check your paper against a database to be sure you’re not stealing, regardless of who you are. You will get caught. So, when in doubt, cite it out. Though this might lead to an extensive amount of notes, you can’t be accused of stealing. If you feel your paper is suffering from too many notes, that is considered lazy writing in academics. It’s okay if you’re looking at an early draft. You’re still working on your ideas, and a cluster of notes can show you where you need to work more. It is not worth your degree or career to plagiarize.
If you have further questions on citing your sources, check out Plagiarism.org’s section on citing. They can give you an expert rundown of all that you’ll need to do to avoid the mistake.
Stay tuned as I explore looking for grants for writing in an upcoming edition.
Please refer to the following works regarding citations and bibliography:
- Appleby, Joyce, Lynn Hunt, and Jacob Margaret. Telling the Truth about History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.
- Benjamin, Jules R., A Student’s Guide To History, 11th ed. (New York: Bedford/St. Martin, 2010).
- MacMillan, Margaret, Dangerous Games: Uses and Abuses of History. New York: Modern Library, 2009.
- May, Lary. The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.