By Tammy Trail
When I began to write my first novel, I knew it would be a historical. I love history. I love the idea of our nation being shaped by hard–working men and women who sacrificed to live in an untamed country. I chose Frontier/American Revolution because that’s what I like to read.
I began of course with WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN. I was given advice from a writer friend to research everything for accuracy and keep notes on where I found that information. I may need it later to educate or confirm my research.
If you just google Historical Research, you will find a plethora of options. Historical research involves examining past events to draw conclusions about the future. That is one definition I found. Instead of drawing conclusions about the future, we who write historical fiction pour our definition of past events and how they might have affected our characters onto the page.
Some material that may help in your research are newspapers, diaries, letters, speeches, or interview a person with first–hand knowledge. Museums, historical societies, and old pictures are helpful too. I would really love to take a “research” trip one of these days. Williamsburg Virginia has been calling my name for years.
In my American Revolutionary story, politics plays a huge role because it set the social and economic climate for that period. I read about some of the lesser known places and heroes that played a part in our winning independence from Great Britain. I also asked myself what roles would a woman have played during the American Revolution? How does life go on when your men are away from home?
I have even read novels from other authors who write in my chosen time to get a feel for that era. I stay away from books that have a plot like my own. Some authors write blogs about their extensive research to share with others. Something as simple as shoes were totally different over 200 years ago. Beware of doing so much research that your story becomes bogged down with just facts, and not enough story. You can do too much research and never introduce your character to the world.
I have used Pinterest to keep pictures of my character’s lives. I can look at them and imagine what the interior of a home would look like, how my heroine may have dressed for chores, or how she may have dressed for a party.
I also dabbled in writing a western set in Wyoming territory in the early 1800s. My heroine is a Chinese national who arrives in San Francisco on a ship. During my research for that story, I found a ship that sailed from China to that port in 1854. Now some of the other facts in my story had to be changed to fit that timeline. And that’s OK. It adds authenticity. I also needed to learn about the US Calvary, Indian tribes who were indigenous to that part of the country, and what obstacles my heroine might encounter because she was not born in the United States.
When you have all your questions answered and you begin to write, chances are you will find you have more questions. Keep researching or seek out an experienced author. I find that someone is always happy to help.
Writing Prompt: In what year did the following events take place?
- Senator Daniel Webster endorses a bill as a measure to avert a possible civil war.
- Millard Fillmore is sworn into office as President of the United States.
- California is admitted as the 31st state.
- P.T. Barnum introduces Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind to an American audience.