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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Research for Historicals

When crafting historical novels, a writer must first feel grounded in the period, and confidant with the setting and what the characters wear, eat, see, and how they live. That’s a tall order, and takes a lot of time.
In thinking about my upcoming workshop at RWA National in July, where I’ll be getting specific about Researching for Historicals, I realized it could have been a one-day workshop instead of only several minutes. In researching for my October release, The Tapestry Shop, I visited museums in France, where I found artifacts that enriched my novel, set in the thirteenth century. In a museum I saw some of the tools they used in the Middle Ages, as well as everyday items like a lady’s comb. What fascinated me about the comb was that the upper part, where the teeth were attached, was made of tin. This was their mirror. This same comb plays a part in my novel, when Catherine sees her mother’s face in the tin reflection.
Fine, you say. But I can’t make it to London to research my Regency! Not to worry. You can browse parts of the Smithsonian, even online. I keep a list of online sites, set down as to category and time period. When I’m in a hurry, I just throw them in my Favorites folder and sort them later.
Aside from the internet, SCA events, like reenactments, are great places to see what life was really like before modern times. Best of all, keep reading books written by authors who write in your time period. Chances are they have done their homework, and can save you a lot of time, but it never hurts to double-check the facts before sending your book out into the world.


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Joyce,
Interesting article and I agree with what you say. I love writing historicals too, and for our novels, and for our own satisfaction and reader enjoyment, accuracy is essential.


Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Margaret: Yes, and what's good about it is that research can really be fun, but time consuming too, especially when you find some nugget that takes you down another road.

Ilona Fridl said...

Hi, Joyce! I agree that your research should be as close to the times as possible. My first two novels are in the twenties, so I had the advantage of asking people who were alive then what it was like. Also, there are many great programs on PBS on historical subjects that I take notes on.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Ilona: I agree, about PBS. Also, Netflix has a lot of really good films, like The Medicis, Canals of Venice, etc. that I've used. Documentaries are always good, if like from PBS or BBC. Thanks for stopping by.

Cathie Dunn said...

Great post, Joyce.

I used a holiday in Normandy 3 years ago to research as much as I could about the area, even just taking the car across the countryside to get an idea of the environment, although some of it has changed slightly since the 12th C. You can still get impressions, though.

Online research is the next best thing but there are many sites that offer wrong information. You have to be careful where to look and double check against respected resources.

Re-enactment is a fab way to gaining insight into another lifetime. I did it for a couple of summers in Wales, and it was great fun staying overnight within castle ruins. Ahh, nighttime explorations! ;-)

One bugbear of mine is reading about how quick it takes to travel by horse - MCs cross Scotland, England or Wales in a couple of days! At 30 miles max. on horseback on a dry day that's just not possible.

I love historical research. Unfortunately it sometimes takes over and on certain days I get very little writing done. LOL