Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Tidbit For You Historical Authors

I love historical romance. I love the fact that not only can I read a story for the characters and the plot, but I can also learn a little bit at the same time. I guess that's why when I taught history, I would always bring in the "real people" and not simply a discussion of dates and wars. I want people to know that real people got us to where we are today. It was amazing how quickly the students in my class were hooked. But the question now is, can the same be done with historical fiction.

You bet.

But to bring in the real good fiction, you need research. Now, those writers out there who have been doing this for some time already know how to do much of this, but for those of you just starting out, here is one big hint. Go for the primary sources.

Too often, I read submissions that seem to have relied only on what we call "source books". Essentially, these are books that have done nothing more than give you the broad picture of what happened in that time period. In many ways, I like to think of these as the Wikipedia of sources. Not necessarily accurate and if it is accurate, it is likely such a broad picture you really don't get much.

Primary sources, on the other hand, are documents and material coming right from that time period. Getting your hands on maps from that time period. Reading original newspapers or letters from that time. If you get the history books (yes I am stressing books here and not quick internet searches), go for the ones written by the experts who have devoted their lives to that one period of time.

This does not mean that you have to include all of that material in your story, but the added knowledge you have will add that additional level of "voice" you may have been missing originally. If you immerse yourself in the time period, your readers will sense that with your stories.

One last word of caution. Be careful of those people and groups out there that seem to think they know everything about a subject. I have bumped into some "history hobbiest" that have only been learning their "knowledge" from other hobbiest. In the end, this is worse than that game of telephone we all played at camp. The information is far from accurate. Go for the real stuff.

Have fun researching. Week is almost over. How much writing did you get done this week?



  1. This was such a helpful post. thank you. While I don't write historical romance, I am working on historical women's fiction.

    My question: I have done a great deal of research on the time period, and have included in my story an actual person from history. She's not well known, but she did write an autobiography. I'm trying to be as true to the facts about this woman as possible as well as true to her nature and voice as I've gleaned it from my research. In this case, should I cite my sources at the end of the book?

    Any other tips you might have concerning this type of historical writing would be helpful and much appreciated.

  2. Researching is as important to contemporary as it is to historical. I've read numerous books with inaccurate information, and feel cheated when I find these mistakes.

    I'm currently researching several topics, including String Theory (fabric of the universe stuff that makes my poor brain hurt), because I know someone out there with this knowledge may read what I've written. Getting your facts right is essential. And getting smarter along the way never hurt anyone. :D

    I've written over 4200 words so far this week, and plan to write at least 3800 more!

  3. Scott - thanks for the tidbit and like Beth, I'm also appreciative of any other tips you have to share on historical writing.

    My question is, is there any trouble with lawsuits when using actual people in historical works?

  4. Great question Miss Sharp -- that's a big deal. Thanks for asking that.

  5. That is a great question on the lawsuit issue. Obviously, that issue is always a potential issue when you are working with real characters in a story. The real people may be dead, but there is still family that may exist. The key is to make sure your information is accurate and that you are not doing anything to turn the person into someone that they aren't or weren't.
    If you are really concerned, then the best thing to do is make sure that you are contacting that person directly and making sure that you have permission. If it is a family member, contact them as well. Always err on the side of caution.

  6. Thanks, Scott. As always, you are so helpful.