An Introduction to Historical Research
If you ask any author of historical fiction, they will tell you the most important aspect of writing novel steeped in history is the research. Readers of historical fiction want the authors to transport them to another time and era. They want to visualize and experience everything about a particular century or country of long ago.
Historical research seeks to discover the connections between the literary work and the historical time period in which or about which it is written. The basic materials from which historians gain their vision of the past are the artifacts and documents preserved from earlier historical eras.
Because these resources are in its most basic form, they are referred to as "primary sources." All good historical research begins with a careful analysis of the best primary sources obtainable. Therefore, before taking up any serious historical project of your own, you need to know what primary sources are, where to obtain them, and how to make the best use of them.
Historical Research – A necessary evil
You will either love researching history or hate it. Regardless of which pertains to you, if you want to write an historical novel, you must do your research thoroughly.
Why? Because unlike other genres, readers of historical fiction demand it. They love particular eras or settings and many read novels from that time voraciously. They will spot an inaccurate detail immediately. Not only does this jar the reader from your story, but you will lose credibility with your audience if you haven’t done your research. So you must get the facts straight. Did they drink tea in 10th century Europe? If your book is set during that era, you must know this. It is not unusual to see authors of historical fiction seeking information about the minutest details.
Successful authors write what they know. We’ve heard that phrase time and time again. Research helps aspiring authors know a topic intimately. Think of research as an investigation or putting together a great puzzle. Piece by piece, research helps complete a picture, the mystery unfolds as facts resurface.
Take your research seriously. It is the most critical aspect of writing historical fiction. It is the foundation of your story. In historical fiction, you cannot establish your setting, your characters, and the details of your story without it.
Before you begin to write, research. It is not unusual for authors to spend years researching. Immerse yourself in that era and understand it fully before you begin to write. And even when you begin to write, you must continue to research.
If you want to write an historical novel, you must accept the fact that research is ongoing and all encompassing. Embrace it and learn to love it. It will show in your work. Your readers will appreciate and respect you for it.
I will be exploring all aspects of historical research in this topic - everything from where to find resources to actual research. So I hope you visit this site and topic often. There is a lot we can learn together.