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.
It’s the honest truth. Libraries are still the go to resource for finding materials to back up your writing. You cannot do all your research online. There simply is too much information that is unregulated floating around out there. Remember the previous post with the video about the internet? Good.
Part of being a historical fiction writer is going to a library–or, if you have the resources to invest, you can build your own. If you’re lucky enough to live in a town that has a decent university library, then you’re all set and can save yourself a lot of cash. Go get that library card. Most universities will allow locals access to their library. You can call ahead to be sure.
Another feature that is available is online libraries and mail lending. Have you met Open Library? Before you again attempt to rely on this limited resource, the best thing you can do is get a real library card and go to a real library. Any professor or other professional researcher will agree. If you’re here to learn tips for cutting corners, then your work will reflect corner cutting. You simply will have to accept the fact that beating feet on the street is still the best method available to you. Certainly, you can borrow a book and bring it home for several days, make copies of important pages and take extensive notes.
The reason I emphasize going to the library and spending some time is that you can quickly vet books by looking at the fly leafs, and then looking for the information you seek inside of them. They may be perfectly legitimate resources, but have little to no information on the specifics you seek. You can’t do that online. Online articles are usually only an introduction to the topic. My advice for anyone writing historical fiction: Over Learn Your Topic. Learn everything about it, even if it’s a side issue. Why? because when you go to write, you will be a confident expert on your topic and it will show! Besides, you’d be surprised what nuggets of information you can find in a book that may seem slightly off topic from where you were digging. I’ve had this happen numerous times and now expect to add these sidebars into my research as regular work. You should too. You can never learn too much about that which you write. Why? do you remember the old adage: write what you know? You certainly can’t write about what you don’t know and if you only know some of a topic, you can only write somewhat about it. That won’t make for a very good book.
Did you know that some libraries are networked? It’s true! If you’re a student or card holder at a SUNY college/university, you can access the libraries of all the other schools to find the material you need. Ask your librarian about this intralibrary loan service at your library. While you’re there, ask if they have a mail service and online catalog you can access from home.
To maintain your bibliography while you’re working, look into a number of services online that will help you to enter the information nearly automatically. If you can find a virtual listing of the book you’re working with, for example, on amazon, then you can usually click a link/button and it adds the listing to your bibliography. Working on several projects? You can organize your bibliography according to each project—in separate folders/lists. Here is a Wiki that lists some, which may or may not still be in service. I use Flow and love it.
Why do you need such a tool? Because, it often happens that you need to get that book back, because you need to go over something again. Or, you’re marketing your book to agents and editors–although you’d think an editor would not quibble over the format of a bibliography, they will. Agents and editors want to see that you’re a professional. A clean and well ordered bibliography is necessary. And, if you’re seeking an editor to work on your book, having them skip the appendix can save you some money, and they can skip it if you’ve been using a formatting software intended to do the work. Be sure you know proper citations, as well, if you intend to use end notes or footnotes (let’s visit this topic more in depth at another time).
Now that you have a library card and a bibliography manager, you’re all set to start building your resources. But what about visiting actual historic locations? Stick around, because I’ll be writing about them soon, too.
Please refer to the following works regarding research materials and research tools:
- 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.