Once upon a time I loved historical novels but thought I'd never be able to write one. Getting all that stuff straight?!? No way. Not for me. I preferred to set my novels in fantasy worlds based on historical eras. (Because, let's be serious, I have a degree in history ... and I really should use it for something.)
Then I wanted to write this story about a girl who accidentally travels back in time and ends up falling in love -- with two guys, one of them a time-traveler like herself. I figured I could basically cheat, because this world could be seen through modern eyes. And when I was done -- it was hard, don't get me wrong -- I realized, I could write historical fiction. It's just all about the research.
Once while discussing an idea set in a contemporary world with my brother, I complained, "But I would have to research too much!" He said, "Yeah, but you know the books that really get it right are the best ones." He's totally right.
When it comes to my research process, I've taken a bit of wisdom from David McCullough. He did an interview with "Stuff You Missed in History Class" and talked about his research process. He said to research enough to get started, then start writing. When you come to a point where you need to find out more, research again. That's basically how I do it. I gather all my basics for the time period -- where my character will live, what she wears, etc. and anything I need to know that weaves in with my plot. Then I start writing. Invariably, two paragraphs in I will have to stop and scour the internet to find out what floor the drawing room is on. (Despite the fact that I look this up all the time, I can never remember.) Sometimes it makes my first draft process really slow, but I think if I researched everything I need before I started ... I'd probably never get started.
I have actually really come to love writing historical fiction. I love learning about specific time periods and looking at pictures of really elegant dresses -- wishing I had an occasion to wear one! Writing -- and of course reading -- historical fiction is like a fabulous escape into sparkling time periods.
What do you like most about historical fiction? Or what's your favorite historical book?
And check back. Next week, Heather B. Moore, author of the Victorian novel HEART OF THE OCEAN, shares some of her researching tips.
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I've been writing since I was old enough to grasp a crayon--my grandma even has an early copy of a "book" I made her. I have a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Wyoming and will (hopefully) soon be starting a graduate program in English. When I'm not breaking up impromptu UFC fights in the living room or losing miserably to my boys at Uno, I'm ... well, writing or editing, of course! I'm married to my best friend, and we have three rambunctious but simply amazing little boys.