Do you write Historical Fiction? Writing historically accurate fiction starts with RESEARCH.
Well, duh! I know that.
Most writers will take for granted a great many aspects that 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 your 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.
We’ve all been there. Writing along at a pace that can’t be stalled, the words flow from our proverbial pens onto the page with the ease of water filling a glass. The euphoria is energizing and before we know it, we’ve written umpteen pages. They sound good. Really good! That sweet moment quickly descends into self doubt. The euphoria fades into stress. The moment is lost. Then we get some feedback and it confirms our fears. We’ve made some awful mistakes. Mistakes glare back at us from the page, making us feel like we should just quit before we completely embarrass ourselves.
You’re not alone. Most writers experience this crushing self doubt. This series is here to help other writer learn what I have learned to avoid the worry and stress.
How can we as writers avoid mistakes, let alone doubts? I’m not certain of the answer in all cases, but I do have a tip that will work for Historical Fiction Writers. In a way, it can inform the process of authors in other genres, too. Make less mistakes by being proactive. Be honest with yourself, and make a list of all the things that you consistently mess up. Each time you pen a new work, when you are ready to go over it, you’ll know what to look for and you can fix the mistakes before someone sees.
What if I don’t know what my mistakes are? Research, as I have stated many times before, can take various forms. These forms are often unexpected. We take many things for granted as we weave our words on the page. One of those things is etymology and it can help you to avoid embarrassing faux pas in the future. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as follows:
etymology: noun et·y·mol·o·gy ˌe-tə-ˈmä-lə-jē: an explanation of where a word came from : the history of a word: the study of word histories.
So, you can assume where this entry is headed by the definition. You might ask yourself, now I have to study linguistics? This is getting to be too much! Take heart, dear writer. For the most part, you do this automatically. No one says forsooth today, for instance. Although, they might, cause it’s fun! You know a lot about what words were used when. You just don’t know them all by heart.
In the first edition of OP-DEC, there were a couple of oopses that I made. One was likening Carroll Healey to a serial killer. The term serial killer didn’t exist until the 1970s. Oops! I took for granted an every day term for my era. I admit this to save you the trouble and pain of having your book out there with a similar mistake, which might call into question your credibility as a researcher and historian. It is my fault that I didn’t think to look that term up and make sure it was timely. I had no idea. When in doubt, check it out. I check more often than I have in the past, because now I am aware of this kind of mistake.
Understand, that no book is perfect when it hits the stands. There are many mistakes in all of them. I once read a copy of a beloved classic and nearly threw it across the room for the typos in the text. This is especially upsetting to those of us who are struggling to get published, and the rejections flow in citing typos or grammar as the issue. The audacity of some of these publishers to use that as an excuse can be infuriating. Do they not pay editors? They in fact do, but they seem to be as human as the rest of us and don’t catch everything. The reason that they slush pile you for a typo is because of the sheer numbers of submissions. You’ve got to get edited before submitting. That’s my major tip to you out everything I’ve written about publishing a novel. GET AN EDITOR.
An editor is paid to iron out those typos and grammar mistakes, but they’re also going to check your etymology. You’ll never again, I hope, call someone in a book that takes place before the 70s a serial killer. It was my editor who gave me the tool below to use to verify some words I was using. The thing of it is, though, you’re human. Being human, we don’t always realize that words we use in casual conversation weren’t used in casual conversations a decade ago, last century, or under Caligula.
It is true that we cannot take everything we write and make it historically accurate, otherwise our readers would be unable to read our work. Not many people are around who read Old English, which resembles German more than it does modern English. To be clear with our readers, we make concessions. Then, there is the matter of how absolutely ludicrous something sounds to the modern ear. Again, we make a concession for the sake of the art. Historical Fiction is, after all, fiction. This doesn’t mean we should just write whatever with disregard to the timeliness of the words, but rather that we might have to use something that is timely enough.
Check out the resource below and make sure you add it to your bookmarked tools, if you haven’t already. Google is your friend. You can use it to search online for anything that might not show up here. If you can’t verify a term/words origination, then avoid it to be on the safe side.
Again, if you’re writing something that ignores chronological history for effect (such as comedy or time travel), you can ignore this.
Online Etymology Dictionary
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.