Hello! It’s my debut blog with Corsets, Cutlasses and Candlesticks, and I’m very excited to be among so many talented ladies. I’ve also just finished copy edits on MAID OF SECRETS, so I can officially dive into book 2 of my Maids of Honor series: MAID OF DECEPTION.
But like most historical writers, I can’t get too far without realizing “whoa. I need to research this.” And when it comes to research, you immediately run into questions: What details should you include in your story? How much do “the facts” matter… and when does your story matter more? How much is “too much” whether regarding amount of information or some of the grittier aspects of your time period?
I have found that, for me, it’s much less of an issue of “Research Dos and Don’ts” than it is “Research Wills and Won’ts”. Because first off, there are no hard and fast rules. You can read two books about the same time period, and one could double as a history book… while the other barely dips its toe into the details of era. Even the details themselves can be altered to suit a story: for instance, two or three real-live people being combined to create one more impactful character. Sometimes, too, the experts differ on what really happened at a certain point in history. And then, of course, there’s the ever popular “well, there is no readily-available information on my specific question” issue. When that happens, what do you do?
To tackle these questions, I’ve created a few “Wills” and “Won’ts” of my own:
When it comes to research, I…
WILL: Gather all of the information I can on my key story elements, even if it’s conflicting (which happens a lot more than you might suspect).
WON’T: Put all of that information in my book. I’m writing historical fiction… not history.
WILL: Highlight the unusual, the intriguing and the super-specific details that can give a character or setting life. If something catches my eye in research, it might catch the interest of my reader, too.
WON’T: Research too broadly. I may want to know everything that’s happening in Elizabethan England, but I need to know, specifically, what’s happening where my spies currently are, and in the Court. To start researching too far afield is to invite lost hours and days that should be spent writing.
WILL: Make decisions that serve the story. If I uncover particularly grueling or horror-stricken details in my research, I will not necessarily include them in my tale if they don’t fit the tone of my book.
WON’T: Willfully get the history wrong. There are two kinds of inaccuracies in historical fiction: the first is when the author simply makes a mistake. This I hope to never do, though I’m sure it’s going to happen. The second inaccuracy is more the “bending” of historical details to fit the story. I certainly put the “fiction” in historical fiction, but the details I choose to embroider still result in situations that remain authentic to the time period.
WILL: Continue researching, long after the story is done. You never know when you might find a detail you can use in a future book!
There are many more guidelines that other researchers and writers have, I’m sure. But one thing is certain: the more you know, the better your tale will be, no matter what its era. So keep learning… and keep writing!