I love historical fiction; however, I’ve encountered the occasional work in which it’s clear the author hasn’t done sufficient research before writing. Anachronisms are the biggest culprit in this regard, so today I thought I’d share four tips on conducting research for your historical novel.
1) Read Contemporary Literature
Assuming your work is set from the Middle Ages onward, you should have no trouble finding texts from that time. Read them to get a feel for the cadence of the language as this will help you achieve a sense of authenticity, in your dialogue in particular, but also in your prose.
2) Verify Your Sources
There are plenty of websites offering historical information, but are they all accurate? An Internet search can be a great way to start your research, but take care over where you place your trust. Ensure it is a reputable source. The same goes for books; although, in general, I would trust a non-fiction text written by a well-known historian over a web page created by a nameless entity.
3) Watch Your Language!
One of the worst areas for slip-ups tends to be dialogue. I’ve seen works in which the author offers careful detail of period clothing and customs, but then ruins all that by having her characters say “okay” or “cool”. I try to keep my writing period appropriate in both dialogue and prose, but at least pay attention to the dialogue. If you are unsure about a word, plug it into the Merriam Webster website as their dictionary definitions usually include a first usage date. If you’re still in doubt and have a reasonable alternative word, use that.
4) Authentic LGBT Portrayal
One issue peculiar to LGBT fiction is the portrayal of LGBT characters in a period setting. It’s important to know how LGBT people were viewed in the country and time in which you’ve set your story. Was homosexuality merely frowned upon, for example, or was it a capital offense? This information is vital so that you know how to show your characters in different situations. Are they living in secret? If so, is that secret absolute or do their inner circle know the truth? Information on these matters can be harder to come by than other aspects of your historical research, but there are some good books out there, and you can also check out Rictor Norton’s excellent online resources.
Does anyone else have any good historical resources to share? If so, do leave a comment!
Asta’s Annotations is a bi-monthly column in which author and editor Asta Idonea (aka Nicki J. Markus) discusses the world of LGBT publishing and offers tips and tricks to help budding authors.
Asta was born in England but now lives in South Australia. She has loved both reading and writing from a young age and is also a keen linguist, having studied several foreign languages.
Asta launched her writing career in 2011 and divides her efforts not only between MM and mainstream works but also between traditional and indie publishing. Her works span the genres, from paranormal to historical and from contemporary to fantasy. It just depends what story and which characters spring into her mind!
As a day job, Asta works as a freelance editor and proofreader, and in her spare time she enjoys music, theatre, cinema, photography, and sketching. She also loves history, folklore and mythology, pen-palling, and travel, all of which have provided plenty of inspiration for her writing. She is never found too far from her much-loved library/music room.