Hi readers! I hope you’ve been well since my last post. Today where going to talk about the basics of researching Historical Fiction, a genre of writing that I really love. I touched on this a bit in “Research Basics: Alternate Realities & Alternate Worlds,” but in this post I will be expanding on them. So let’s get started!
What is Historical Fiction?
Historical Fiction is an overarching genre, covering everything from just straight Historical to Alternate History and Historical Romances. It’s all about the setting and the plots of the stories taking place in a different time than where we live. It can use made up events that fit seamlessly into history or actual events that took place like a famous battle.
What are some useful terms to know when researching Historical Fiction?
There are two terms you will want to know when researching for a Historical short, novella, or novel. Primary sources and Secondary sources. Primary sources are things like newspaper articles from the time; artifacts such as cookware, weaponry, and clothing; photographs and portraits; diaries and journals. What’s you’ll notice they all have in common is that they were created in the time past, when the historical event as still going on. Letters sent home during the American Civil War, or WW2 would be primary sources.
Secondary sources are things like the internet (Reliable websites only!) and history books. I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but a book I’m reading called Between Women by Sharon Marcus would be considered a secondary source. Secondary sources take some of the research pressure away from you, because the author of the book has already narrowed down the topic and compiled the data. They’re great when it comes to in depth overviews of a topic, really great in fact. The only drawback is that they can be colored by the author’s opinion on whatever the topic is.
How do you pick an Era or event?
This is where things are exactly the same as my previous post. I suggest making lists of the five to ten most interesting events/periods in history to you. You can also just brows through overview type books if you prefer and see what jumps out at you. I like lists better though, they’re easier and you can cross off whichever ones aren’t as interesting to you as the rest.
Sometimes you have periods in history that interest you already. When I was small I loved Ancient Egypt, King Tut especially. One day I will probably set a story in Egypt, when the right concept comes along. Also of interest to me are the Regency & Victorian Eras, as well as the American Revolution and the Mughal Empire. I find everything about those times in history interesting. But I will admit, I do like a couple more than the others. Lists are great for when you already have a few periods/events that interest you.
What sort of information do you need know to write Historical Fiction?
Everything. From what a religious service was like, to what people of different classes ate, to how they dressed. It sounds small and nit-picky I know, but say you’re character is a slave. She would’ve dressed differently depending on if she was a field or house slave, the fabrics used for her clothing would’ve been different. What she ate would be slightly different as well, and she would be more or less subject to the whims of the family. In general, though a slave, her life wouldn’t be the same just because she was a slave.
That’s why knowing all these seemingly small details is important, so you can record the story in a way that makes it seem as if it could really have happened. Verisimilitude is important in all fiction, but even more so in Historical Fiction or Contemporary Fiction where you’re recreating the real world or in this case, the past.
Where is the best place to start your research?
This is where I think some will be frustrated about this post, that is, if they’re not already. Why? Because this part is entirely up to the writer. Some people like to read first hand accounts first to get the feel for the events, and some prefer the reading the events before getting the context. My personal preference is for books that provide some of both. An overview with first hand accounts dispersed throughout. I’ve found it such books provide something others don’t, but that is something I will go into more detail about during the practical part of this series.
Till next time, don’t get eaten or abducted!