So without further ado, Welcome Janet!
I've been writing historical novels for a number of years, querying, sometimes getting requests for full- manuscripts, other times getting award recognition. I finally decided to figure out what the fuss was all about in self-publishing, especially now that you don't have to publish a book and have a thousand copies in boxes in your garage. So last November, I put my historical novel Tree Soldier on Kindle and in March 2011 released it in book form. As I go around doing book talks, people come and tell me their stories of their father or grandfather's time in the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.--the background to my novel. It has made me pat myself on the back for having a research plan in the beginning with notes I can turn to for creating PowerPoint presentations and answer questions intelligently.
The Research Plan: Putting History into Your Historical Fiction
So what is a research plan? I'd call it a way of organizing your study of the time your characters are living in. It's important you have a good story to tell, but but ask yourself some basic questions?
What period are you writing in? What is the technology of that time? Media? Transportation? Foodways? Costume and etiquette?
One thing about those who write historical fiction (straight or historical romance), understanding your era and all its customs is paramount.
I love Bernard Cornwall's Sharpe series. Cornwall is an expert on Peninsula military campaigns and can bring to life the politics, social attitudes, and English and Spanish culture in the early 1800s. His characters are vibrant. His research is amazing. But Diana Gabaldon is a wonderful writer too and no slouch on understanding her characters' time frame and how they might act in 18th century Scotland, France and North Carolina. I actually heard them on a historical fiction panel and both said that you have to write in you era and accept certain attitudes of the times that your character might face. The trick is meet the needs of the modern reader. Gabaldon noted that she got a lot of flack when Jaimie in Outlander spanks Claire for disobeying him, but Gabaldon didn't apologize. That's how it was. Just that 1940's Claire didn't quite like that at all!
See the chart for what a plan might look like and do a few things:
- Start with old school research-- books at your library.
- Read some general books about the period. Historical textbooks, local histories, biographies. Take notes. Secondary resources= context
- If your library doesn’t have the book you want use intra-library
- Look at bibliographies in the back of these books for additional works, primary and secondary. You can look for them on-line later in Google Books or academic websites.
- Do on-line search using key words. Make sure your sources are reliable. Anything with “edu” or “gov” (national parks have great history) is sourced. Stay away from wikpedias that can have old or disproved information, easily changed by a whim.
- Join an e-mail focus group. This can include a genealogical society.
- Read the literature of the time (books and poems), ads, brochures, flyers (local museum or state archives have these) & newspapers
- Locate pictures, graphics & maps
- Use the rule of three—have at least three resources that might be covering a particular historical incident or event.
As you gather, organize. Assign numbers to your resources. Put on index cards or some note taking program. I use file folders for material I've copied, have categories for various subjects I'm researching.
Most of all, have fun. How will your character's react? What problems will they face when it takes seven weeks for the mail to go through?
Thanks again for the opportunity to drop by. Happy writing and hunting for the perfect quote or historical find (My recent favorite comment about my town in 1858: “Whatcom is a miserable hole of the place.” Lovely find which I'll use in my next non-fiction piece)