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5 things to know when researching a historical romance novel

They say the devil is in the details, or in my case, it’s more like demons. I’m new at this whole writing ‘thing’, but while working on my first historical novel, I made a lot of things hard for myself. Things I could have easily avoided. Here are my top 5 demons, my top 5 things to note, while researching your historical romance novel, or any historical novel for that matter.

re·search/ˈrēˌsərCH/

The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions.

Etymology: Friend and Foe…

I’ll stand by my case that a HISTORICAL novel should be as accurate as it can be. Not to the detriment of the story maybe, but it should be accurate to the point where there aren’t glaring errors that even a first-time reader of historical romance would notice (unless you’re writing fantasy, lucky bastards).

So when I started writing, The Devoted Daughter, I second guessed everything, even the history of the words I was using, and everyone should! I needed to know, do they say that word in the Regency era? If they do, then did they use it in the context I was using it in? It got to the point where I was re-writing myself over and over and not making any progress, and sometimes I would even cut a scene because I couldn’t find a way to say it the way I wanted because I couldn’t verify something.

Rip, shred, goodbye hair! Seriously, being serious about your details is great, even down to the words. Obviously, a Duke in 1810 isn’t going to walk around saying “My Bad” no matter how cocky he is, but don’t drive yourself up the wall to the point of stalling your writing and discouraging yourself.

The Internet Research Snowball…

This is by far my worst problem while researching. I’ll start reading something and low and behold there is a tiny link, a subtext or a reference to another page and off I go. Before I know it, I’m two hours into reading something that, while quite fascinating, has absolutely nothing to do with what I originally needed to know. This is a major time waster, it’s a fun one, but a waster none the less.

As our friend Gold Five from Star Wars would say, ‘Stay on Target’. Don’t get distracted. Sign yourself up for a bookmarking app like Pocket or Delicious and bookmark that tease and get back to work. This way you can access the page later via your computer, phone or tablet and you can read it anywhere when you actually have the time to do so.

Keep your sources organized from the get go…

Have you ever wished you had a mini Hermione Granger in your pocket that could help with all your research? *raises hand*

One of the problems I have while writing is there are too many sources to look through and they get mixed up and jumbled. Books, magazines, newsletters, the internet and on and on. Often times I research something and then go on to write my scene, but later on, I need to re-read that passage for something else and I have no clue where it is.

I spent so much time searching for my own research that it became a real problem. What I have learned to do is keep all my sources in a master research file divided by era (Regency, Victorian etc…) I use nested folders in Scrivner to separate each article in a section as this creates a jumping navigation for me to use later.

For example, in my Regency research file, I have folder sections containing internet links & book names with the page numbers of said topic. I put them in sub-sections called the London season, carriages & horses, peerage titles, dowagers, military & weapons… You get the idea. This may seem time-consuming, but keeping your sources straight will save you a ton of frustration and time later, especially if you’re writing more than one historical novel in that era. Do you want to have to find good resources again for book 2? I don’t.

If it’s on the internet then it must be true…

I can’t even count on both my hands and feet how many times I saw information where I thought, that can’t be right. Luckily I’m a skeptic when it comes to research, so If I second guess it, obviously I’ll verify it before putting it in writing.

The biggest problem with researching on the internet is everyone likes to write their articles or theories as if it’s fact, even if they aren’t, even if they don’t necessarily mean to word it that way. There is a lot of speculation about history out there and it gets worse the further back in time you go. It’s not only on the internet but in books as well, and it’s your job to weed speculation out from the facts, don’t just assume it’s fact because it’s been published somewhere.

I tend to trust sites/books that cite their references. Also do a little double checking to make sure more than that one person agrees with said topic if it’s something that’s not a concrete fact (for example the EXACT method used to build the pyramids). Just keep the verification short, keep it on track and move on to your writing.

Names, surnames, estate names, title names… kill me now…

It can be very frustrating to come up with names for your characters, add that to the fact that if your writing is about a titled character, then you also need a title name. Then there are the houses/estates they own. They don’t just have a house, it’s a hall, a manor, a townhouse or some other thing, and you got it, it has a name.

I’ve read novels where the names themselves became distracting, some made me laugh and some just seemed way out of place for that era and it nagged at me the whole time, so here is what I did. When coming up with first names and surnames of my characters I did something very boring but accurate. I looked at the census of that time. When it came to naming the home my character lives in, I researched historical estate lists in several counties and came up with like-sounding ideas, I did the same with peerage titles. I’m not saying to be boring with your choices, obviously, but giving your character a name that is distracting because it sounds cool will break the focus readers have on your storyline.

 

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