Sunday, May 01, 2016

Research, Research, Research



As a historical romance writer, there is a lot of research needed in order to get the details correct. In my case, I write mainly Scottish historicals. While I stick to a specific time period and location, I always need to tweak and flesh out important factors such as location, clan, and the nuances of clan allies and foes.

When I first started writing, the Internet was just a dream in some techie’s eye. This meant camping
out at the library and copying reams and reams of facts, images, and maps. Now, the Internet had made life easier, but can I always trust my resources? My rule of thumb is to verify the fact three times. I use various search engines, databases (including Wikipedia) as well as clan websites, Scottish organizations, personal interviews and once in a while a trip to the library is needed. Some may argue about the accuracy of Wikipedia, however for every article you find that warns of the errors, there are just as many that touts the accuracy of the wiki.

Mainly, I love research. Perhaps it’s the nerd in me, but I love digging for more and more details and then stumbling upon a little gem of a fact. For my book, Heather In The Mist, I found tuft of white lavender was good luck in a bridal bouquet and the bouquet is “smashed” over the bride’s head at the end of the ceremony. Of course there were other facts I found along the way from clothing to food to clan relationships.

I “pre-research” when I have a story idea—this is where a story idea prods the direction of the research and I get basic facts. Then, I find a location. (Location is KEY and needs to be fully researched!) The world has changed and it is important to find a map from the time period in which you are writing. Again in Heather in the Mist, there is a loch and falls near the keep and they are fabled to be haunted. I didn’t add the haunted part to my story, but the loch and the falls are featured in the story. Therefore, finding historical images of the landscape can help set the scene and influence characters actions and reactions. In conjunction to this, I research local wildlife so I can pull those critters in when it fits in the story. I add the images to a Pinterest board for the book and this helps me keep a visual connection to my characters, setting, and other images that may prompt inspiration.

The bottom line is I write fiction, so there can be leeway in some facts. For example, I have created fictional clans that work better with the plot. However, this does not mean I have a pass in regards to historical accuracy. I feel we owe it to our readers to give an authentic experience. In some regards an author has creative license. Fantasy and futuristic writers create worlds for their audience and since they created the world, they can do what they want. They are not handcuffed by actual history and facts such as historical and contemporary writers. For those genres informed readers would call us on faulty research.

What do I do with all of the information? I used to create binders for each book. Now, I create a folder on my computer for each book and then subfolders for research, manuscript, images, etc. I also have a “writer’s ramblings” at the beginning of the manuscript with the physical description of each main character, clan or family name, family tartan image, map, and personality traits such as Goals, Motivation, & Conflict and an endearing trait. This makes it easy for me to check the information while writing so I don’t have to search for a specific file.

So, my question for you is; Are you a historical detail stickler? Or, do you like just enough detail to flavor the story?

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