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.
Back in June I wrote a popular article for The Blue Honor Blog explaining how to do research online and what is acceptable. It was shared a lot on Twitter and is the impetus to this series. There are a lot of writers out there and the publishing industry has recognized that there are a lot of bad practices going on. In my small corner of the web, I thought I would attempt to address those issues. Authors of the dime-store-novel are unlikely to find anything in my weekly addresses about historical fiction to suit their needs. Nor is this series here to tell them how to write. If they choose to write a certain style of fiction, that is their right, and, believe it or not, there is a market for it. More power to them. They are welcome to peruse the postings and take what they will from them, despite that.
Finding documents to support your fiction doesn’t end at historical citations for why you wrote a certain scene the way you did. Many are just looking to mimic a style or tone to look like something else in a historical sense. For instance, many dime-store-novels mimic the titles that fed the Film Noir machine of the 1940s and 1950s in the United States. They have a certain flavor that you can’t achieve without studying them. So, you’d need to look for the books of that period at your local or online library and online through Google Books. Another resource for these stylized fictions is the film industry. I suggest finding those packs of 50 Noir Films and so on, which you can easily locate on Amazon.com, and watch. Through these various outlets you’ll pick up the lingo and cadence of the works sought. And, this can work for just about any genre.
But, what about the more literary? Of course! You can do the above and I highly recommend that you do, but you’re going to need to also go the next step. As I wrote in Research: How Much Can I Do Online?, you’ll need to familiarize yourself with what makes good research. So review that article. It talks about resources to get your head in the game of Historical Writing.
Finding appropriate documentation is no joke, so take your time. This isn’t a horse race. Coming in first doesn’t mean you’ve got the best written book in the group. The writer who takes their time crafting and researching will have a far better product to offer publishers than the one who hurries through the motions. Yes, they are motions and everyone counts, like in Tai Chi. So master them and do them every time. Once you get a feel for your process, you’ll know better what you need to do to achieve the goal of finishing a historical fiction. Not everyone writes them within a couple months, so don’t harangue yourself for taking a couple years. Sometimes it takes forever to find the resource you need. You can work on other things in the meantime. Don’t sacrifice your integrity for timing.
After you’re familiar with Primary, Secondary and Tertiary sources and understand what it means by peer reviewed and trustworthy resources, you’re ready to start looking. Like any student who has been through graduate school the initial step is one that might make you queasy. Basically, every time you do one of these works, you’re going to build a literature review. Don’t look so green! Think of everything you’re going to learn. There is no pressure, dear writer, because you are in control of this pile and what you will do with it and it’s going to be read in your own good time. Unlike the grad student, you don’t have a deadline, unless you’ve promised a publisher this book by January of the next year and you’re looking at only five months to read 100 resources on Edwardian England and the shipping industry. That was probably a bad move, huh, especially if you’re working full time.
Do your research before you do your proposals. In this way, you have time to write, and find further materials if needed, to supplement what you’ve already gleaned from the literature review on your topic. You’ve already put together a pretty bibliography and notes. Now, you can just slip into the writing. Those missing pieces will be easier to handle.
Check out this great new resource from the Vatican Library. I was over the moon to see this happen.
Have a topic you’d like discussed on writing historical fiction? Leave me a message and I will do my best to get to it.