In today's installment of Historical Fiction 101, Mrs. Vaughn discusses researching information for a work of historical fiction.
Historical Fiction 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing Historical Fiction
Part 3: Research
by Diane Vaughn
Once you figure out the main aspects of setting, what and who you want to write about, you are now ready to begin researching the time period in which the story takes place. The research is probably the most time consuming part because there is so much information to gather that is crucial to making your story work. For example, when writing a story that takes place during the Civil War, it would be wise to research the war itself, such as the main political issues surrounding the war, major battles and how it ended. It is also important to research notable people in this time period, though often not necessary (though you should at least know who Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee were). The most important part, however, is not researching the facts around the time of the Civil War but rather the ways of life during that time. In other words, how did people feel about the Civil War? How did people go about their everyday lives during the Civil War? You also might want to ask yourself how your character felt about the Civil War. Is he or she a free African American living in the north, or is your character a southern abolitionist helping slaves escape to freedom?
One way to go about researching is simply by using good old Google. There are plenty of academic sites and blogs that often have very valuable and interesting information that can be useful for your story. For example, my Pirates of the Caribbean fan fictions take place at sea during the golden age of sail where tall ships were the most prominent form of transportation and trade between continents. I used the key words ‘age of sail’ and ‘18th century sailing’ and I managed to find many internet sources on the age of sail as well as some nautical terms for my story.
Another way to research your time period of choice is to read literature from that time period. Literature is often a glimpse into the everyday lives of people during a certain time period (i.e. Charles Dickens’s Victorian England), and it can also be helpful when deciding how to write your dialogue. Historical literature tells more of how people felt about events rather than historical facts, and this is what you want for your historical fiction.
And, of course, we have the library which contains a plethora of tomes dedicated to your chosen historical time period.
Check back next week for Part 4 in which Mrs. Vaughn will discuss writing dialogue for historical fiction.