One of the greatest things about writing is that you can do pretty much anything that you want – within reason, whatever that means in the frame of your story. Historical writing is pretty wide-open when you think of all the tales of daring-do, love and revenge. You don’t have to settle in with an action historical figure, unless you’re writing a salacious biography or historical fiction about an event. Still–you want to consider how ‘historical’ you want the work. There are a number of parameters which the would be history fiction author has to consider: Where is this taking place? Can I find maps and images or renderings of the place? Is it somewhere I can easily visit, despite a tight budget? What were the people like? What did they wear, say, eat, and do for fun on Saturday afternoons? Ah, yes, the feeling of being overwhelmed sets in!
Don’t let research of this kind discourage you. There are tons of manuals and books written about just about everything – time, place, persons, etc. The good thing, many of the newer historical research books take a fun look at the history they’re covering. You won’t be sawing wood five pages in, as the author waxes nostalgic about their work, and the contents of the book, throwing a thesaurus full of “I’m qualified to talk about this stuff” words at you.
The other reason you can’t be discouraged–you have to do this work. If you’re going to write historical fiction, you can’t skip the work of knowing the history of the period in which the story is set. This is necessary for getting you published and taking you seriously. Research reflected in your work makes it stronger, more immersive and engaging. Just think, you can teach someone about the period without being “that teacher from high school American history” that everyone dreaded. Besides, if you love the time period, sharing what you know in a creative way, learning more about it and sharing that as well, that will bring your readers back for more.
Take a look at this excerpt from “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing” by Melissa Mohr. Published by Oxford University Press. Note that Oxford University Press USA (all rights in the Work and the Excerpt except as explicitly provided herein reserved).
Then go and take a look around your favorite bookstore (online or in person) to find more resources regarding history that you might not have considered including in your work. Don’t trust your cultural knowledge to be correct on the topic!