The heart of any good historical novel is the research the writer puts into it. Writing an historical is not a decision to be made lightly. There are so many things you need to consider. Of course, the characters and the plot are important, I mean where would the story be without those elements?
But it’s the details of the time period that can either make or break the reader’s love for the story. Let me give you a for example, it’s no secret that I love westerns. I bought an ebook for another publisher, a western that was spicy like mine. I was getting into the story, loving the interaction between the hero and heroine and BAM! She used a term that didn’t even exist in the 1870s. It threw me out of the story completely. I did finish it, but it soured my experience.
Perhaps it’s because I research so much when I write that I am very particular when I read. Perhaps not. Have you ever read a medieval with women’s names that made no sense? Like for example, if her name is Mackenzie. Oh please, that is a 21st century first name. During Medieval times it was a surname, a clan, for God’s sake.
Or here’s another one. Cursing. Oh yes, cursing can be a curse for an historical writer. Two of my favorite curses, bullshit and asshole were not coined until the 1920s. You can’t imagine how hard it is to write someone cursing when I can’t use the words I enjoy myself.
Truly though, all kidding aside, research has to be a passion for the writer or it will be a chore. If you don’t enjoy history or researching accurate facts, then you probably shouldn’t write historical. There are so many details to look into. Even now I still have to look things up regularly although many have become second nature to me.
Think about it, folks. There’s clothing, shoes, socks, underwear, hats and coats. Then there’s common foods, drinks, cooking methods, utensils, stoves and ovens. Not to mention plates, forks, cups and napkins. When was indoor plumbing invented or when did women start wearing bras? What did they wear instead before then? What about expressions, for example, when did looney bin begin? Or historical events, sometimes writers twist them to their needs which really annoys historians. As readers, can we be more forgiving? Maybe.
So many details, so many things to research. A rose by any other name might be a rose, but you have to be sure it’s not one that wasn’t created until 1975 by some botanist in New York. 🙂
I only wish other writers would be as passionate about historical research as me. I consistently read books from major publishers with inaccurate language or something slightly of for the time period. One I just finished by a multiple-NYT best seller! I can sometimes overlook them and other times, well, I tend to make myself heard. In the movie theater watching 3:10 to Yuma (I admit I love western movies too!) Christian Bale used my two favorite curses as listed above and the time period was around 1870. A buzzer went off in my head and I turned to my husband and said. “I can’t believe he used that word!”
Of course the other movie patrons looked at me like I was insane so I lowered my voice and grumbled about historical accuracy. Then I watched the movie and lost myself in the world of westerns, much to my husband’s relief.
It’s important, I firmly believe, to know your history before beginning to write an historical. I’ve been itching for years to write a Medieval, but the research has held me back. I will want to make it very accurate and well, for that I’d probably need six months to get it all right.
For now I’ll stick to cowboys and ride the range by their side, checking my curse words and watching for cattle rustlers.
Until next time!