#2: Researching the World of your Historical Novel
Last week I talked about the various aspects of living in a past world that you will need to know to write a believable historical novel. This week let’s explore how you do the research, where you learn about food, chamber pots, warfare, and clothing!
- Plan formal research before you even sit down to write. You’ll need non-fiction books on the general life and times of your period, as well as a couple of really well-written novels to see how other authors weave the fact and fiction together. What other aspects of that world are important to your story? Warfare? Religion? You’ll need books devoted to those areas, too.
- Use bookfinder.com to find research material. Sure, Amazon has loads of books, but bookfinder lists not only all of Amazon’s books but also those from thousands of little bookstores around the world. Many of its books are waaaay out of print and you could never find them without bookfinder (one invaluable book I used for Sex with the Queen was published in 1667.)
Let’s say you want to set your novel in ancient Rome. Put “ancient Rome” in the title search box. Dozens of novels pop up. In non-fiction, there are books on general life times as well as specific areas such as women, warfare, slavery, music, gladiators, suicide, pipes and valves, religion, cooking, sex, law, and much more!
- Write up research notes. Bibliophiles will be shocked, but I underline the parts I find useful—well, not in the 1667 book, but in most others—and when I am finished, I go back and type up the underlined parts as research notes. This process helps engrave the facts in my mind more than reading alone can, and I have a huge chunk of written research material at my fingertips as I write and can find anything within the document easily.
- Google as you work: While writing Legacy of Kings, if I had Alex or Heph hoist a shield I would google “ancient Greek shields,” read about the materials and look at images of construction, shape, and color, then zip back to writing. Google is invaluable for answering questions quickly.
- Contact embassies for questions on foreign countries. Sometimes despite google and bookfinder, you are still stumped in your quest. If you need information about a foreign country, call the Cultural Attaché at their embassy in Washington, DC. It’s actually their job to help you!
- Contact universities. Google which ones are best known for the history of your time period, call the department, and tell the administrative assistant you’re writing a novel and would like to get some information from a professor well versed in a particular field of knowledge. Academics really understand painstaking research and are usually eager to share their knowledge!
Next week let’s heat this up with Dating Before Tinder: Historical Romance Tips.
Remember, LEGACY OF KINGS is available for pre-order here. (Anyone from the U.S. or Canada who pre-orders LEGACY OF KINGS and emails proof to firstname.lastname@example.org will receive a signed bookplate from Eleanor herself!)