SATURDAY 26th October – DAY 2
Inkwell 1 – Historical Fiction & Research – your questions answered. Research, polls and questions posted on the blog in the summer. Alternative links will be available for those not interested in Historical Fiction.
Welcome to the first INKWELL session, if Historical Fiction and Research is not of interest to you, here is an alternative link
Your Questions Answered – Ink Well
During the planning of this programme I asked followers of my blog what they wanted to know. I have always found courses and workshops more fulfilling when they are personalised and able to cater to specific needs, knowledge and support.
The first of these sessions tackles Historical Fiction. I have drawn on my own research and many sources, I write in my own words and link up to articles written by experts, websites and publications along the way, I have sought permission to do so from the original sources/ writers.
For those of you not interested in this session there is an alternative link to continue a creative writing focus.
Historical research & fictional writing
In this session we will cover
- Research & Sources
- Skills & knowledge
- Pitfalls to avoid
- Historical Fiction – Research
Let’s begin with a definition of Historical Fiction;
I would argue that all writing requires a certain element of research, even if it is as simple as researching the chosen market or target readership. Writing Historical Fiction inevitably involves thorough research, so if you’re not up for that you should think twice about writing in this genre. In fact, don’t think. Just don’t do it.
Similarly if you are so gripped by the research and haven’t got ideas for plots or characters, perhaps you should consider writing Historical non-fiction.
How much research is enough? Is a common question and we will address this issue in this session.
Caro Clarke writes about Historical Fiction (amongst other things)
The good historical novel is the wise selection of the right fact for the right effect. It doesn’t surfeit the reader by too much information, it doesn’t starve them with too little. But, in the end, it is the story that must rule. If you’ve swept your readers into Willem’s world by judicious use of historical fact, you must hold them there because of Willem himself, because of Maria Dolores, and their struggle to love each other. If you don’t engage your readers’ emotions, all the research in the world is for nothing.
You must bear this in mind along with your research the need for the story, the characters and the plot, it is this that will keep the readers interested. You need just enough research to be an expert on the times and to avoid uncharacteristic items and events into the setting and plot of your chosen period. You need not be an expert or a historian.
Copyright Caro Clarke
So what about that research?
It’s important to know there are two basic categories;
- Primary sources, contemporary records of the time period that you are researching.
- Secondary sources – written after that time period.
And it’s not just books that have the answers. As a historical researcher, think about other possible sources of historical fact.
Many writers join historical re-enactment groups or organizations that focus on aspects of the time period that they are interested in. These organisations usually have some local experts and knowledgeable people, who would probably be only too willing to help with your research. It can be quicker to learn this way. Remember you need to keep your story historically accurate, but it is the STORY that counts. So you need to know enough to represent an authentic feel.
You can find other ways to research;
- Try watching films and plays about your chosen time period,
- go to museums and travel if you can.
- Check out local restaurants with the cuisine of the area you’re writing about.
- There may be community education programs on culture, language and travel at local colleges:
- try taking a class or attending a talk.
- Learn to ride a horse or shoot a bow and arrow or do silk embroidery.
These experiences will help you use first hand knowledge in your writing – and at the very least may lead to an interesting new hobby!
How much research is too much?
This is the opinion of Catherine Lundoff (from her article ‘Historical Research for Fiction writers’ )
If it becomes a substitute for writing, then it may be time to stop for a while. If you get excited about doing research, it’s fairly easy to get sidetracked to the point you’re doing more research than writing. Don’t lose sight of your goal: a finished story where the settings, plot and characters pull the reader into a vivid picture that he or she may not have read before. Remember you can always check more facts later. There should be a point where you begin to actually write your novel.
© Catherine Lundoff
Catherine Lundoff uses historical settings for a lot of her fiction, including an ongoing series on vampires in colonial Mexico, swashbuckling adventures set in regency England and 16th-century France, and a novel set in an alternate nineteenth century Europe. She even put herself through graduate school on her research skills. Her articles have appeared in The Journal of Women’s History, Speculations, the SpecFicMe Newsletter, American Writer, Queue Press, and Writing-World. Check out her website at
Links include the full article ‘Historical Research for Fiction Writers’ where Catherine Lundoff writes in depth about the process of researching and writing in this genre.
Remember to use a range of Primary and Secondary resources and double check everything.