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INKSPILL – INKWELL Session 1 – Historical Fiction & Research Part 2

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SATURDAY 26th October – DAY 2

AWF circle 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, this is the 2nd part Skills & knowledge, Pitfalls to Avoid & Historical Research

FIND THE FIRST PART OF THIS INKWELL SESSION HERE https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/3517/

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Your Questions Answered – Ink Well

Historical research & fictional writing

In this session we will cover

  • Research & Sources
  • Skills & knowledge
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Historical Fiction – Research

Skills & knowledgeAWF circle

It is as important as researching that you understand how to apply the knowledge to your writing.

Just because your novel is set in the past doesn’t mean that the manuscript should be full or archaic text that the reader would need a companion book to understand.

You have to find a balance between showing the historical setting and creating a book that appeals to the modern reader. You cant just throw your characters into costumes and alter their speech at the same time you must not overwhelm the reader with hundreds of pages of historically accurate detail and end up with more of a nonfiction history text either.

Find a good balance. Readers of historical fiction are usually well-informed, and while they don’t want to be bogged down with useless information, they also don’t want to see a Celtic maiden wearing pleather, or a World War I soldier using laser sight.

ã 2010 staff writer Writer’s Relief


You’ll need to research their style of dress and your characters’ names.

Sometimes looking at old photographs or paintings can give you a good sense of the clothing and hairstyles of the period.


Find out what streets, buildings, and parks existed at that time. If the location isn’t crucial to your story, or if you’ve created a fictional town or city, keep track of the basic information and stay consistent.

Dialect and Terminology

Make sure you’ve got the correct terminology.

Where to find information

Internet sources are not always reliable (although reference links on Wikipedia can be helpful), and any information gleaned from them should be carefully cross-checked. The Internet is full of great sources, and you might start at a historical fiction writers’ site for some valuable and pre-tested Web site links.

If possible, personally visit the location you’re writing about. Tourism offices and historical societies are often helpful and usually have the most accurate information about their cities and towns. Visit the local museum, attend re-enactments, or interview old-timers. Take a tour, take some time, take pictures, and immerse yourself in the depths of the setting. If this is impossible, check with historians and/or the local library.

An obvious place to start is the library and a good librarian can be invaluable. They may have original documents and maps hidden away from the general public, or they can steer you in the right direction. Books aimed at younger readers can also boil down the basics of a time period—what people ate, how they dressed, what their bedrooms looked like, what their mother might say and more. Also, check out the history section of bookstores, and don’t forget about used bookstores—they often have out-of-print history books that can offer a glimpse of the past.

Ask the experts. Find a local expert on the Civil War, or check out the Web site of a well-known Roman Empire scholar. Many experts are happy to answer your questions as long as you’re professional and have done some of your own research in advance.

Keep in mind that you can’t please everyone. There are bound to be grey areas where you’ve taken some liberties, or you may have overlooked some pretty obvious anachronisms. If your plot and character development are strong, editors and readers will be more forgiving of technical inaccuracies.


Pitfalls to Avoid AWF circle


  • Poor Research


  • Too much History in the Text


  • Dialogue that doesn’t fit the era


  • Setting not specific enough to show where the story takes place.


  • The modern world seeping in.

© 2010 Margo L. Dill


  1. You are writing fiction first and historical fiction second
  2. avoid history lessons
  3. use your research
  4. build a setting
  5. use language, dialect & accents


Historical Fiction – ResearchAWF circle

Things to remember about doing historical research:


  1. Learn to love the learning process that comes with it. Think of yourself as a detective or an archaeologist sifting through clues and analyzing data.
  2. Use a good mix of primary and secondary sources for both perspective and immediacy.
  3. Double-check everything. Mistakes will reflect on your work even if it is the fault of your source.
  4. Hand in hand with double-checking comes evaluating your sources. If something seems a bit improbable or sketchy, it probably is. Look for another source to back it up.
  5. Use archaeological records, art, music and alternative resources to round out your research.

Copyright © 2004 Catherine Lundoff


Links to articles on Historical Fiction writing

We finish this first INKWELL session on Historical Fiction with a list of useful websites.


British Library http://www.bl.uk/

US Public Libraries


http://books.google.com/ search inside many public domain works

http://www.royalhistoricalsociety.org/ Royal Historical Society: wonderful programme of lectures






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We hope you have found this session helpful and that you have gained valuable information from the posts.

If you still have burning questions that neither this session, relevant articles or linked websites can answer, leave your comment here and we will do our best to answer it by the end of the retreat.

Thank you.