Today, I’m delighted to welcome Meredith Allard to the blog with a post about the historical research she undertook to write her book Down Salem Way.
I’ve been reading, editing, and writing historical fiction for many years. As a matter of fact, I’ve even written a book about how to write historical fiction called Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction. Thank you to M.J. for allowing me space on the blog today to share my thoughts on one of my favorite subjects.
The way I research historical fiction has changed a lot over the years. When I first started writing historical fiction, I would check as many books as I could carry out of the library, take meticulous notes, color code my notes with highlighters (blue for food, pink for fashion, etc.), return those books and check out another pile, and so on until I felt I had enough knowledge to begin drafting my story. Sometimes it was months worth of research before I started writing anything. Once I started writing I knew exactly where to look in my notebook for what I needed. If I was writing a dinner scene, I could find my notes about food. Notes I referred to often, such as important dates or events that I kept mentioning, were written on index cards, also color-coded, for easier access.
I no longer complete my research before I start writing. As a fellow writer friend said to me, feeling like you have to do all of your research before you start writing slows down your process to the point where your story doesn’t get written. These days I do some preliminary research by reading generally around my topic, perhaps taking a few notes, just enough to keep things clear in my head, and then I begin the prewriting process. Usually, through the process of brainstorming, prewriting, and drafting my story, I recognize what specific bits of historical information I’ll need and then I’ll search for those bits. That’s when my note taking begins in earnest. I create digital folders to organize my notes, citations, and annotations, and I still keep categories of information together (food, clothing, political climate, and so on).
One trick I learned from a history class I took years ago is to think about the historical world I’m creating through the acronym GRAPES.
Geography—How does the climate and landscape affect the people who live there?
Religion—How does the society’s belief system and traditions affect the people who live there?
Achievements—What are the achievements of this society—good and bad?
Politics—What is the power structure in this society?
Economics—How are goods and resources used in this society?
Social Structure—How does this society organize people into classes? Who ends up in which class and why?
I love to travel to the place I’m writing about as well. I always get a lot of good ideas for my story from my travels. As I work to weave the information I learned into my story, one thing I keep in mind is that I want to carry my readers into my world by touching their senses. What do readers see, hear, taste, touch, and smell? Often it’s the smaller details, what people wore, what they ate, the houses they lived in, that brings historical fiction alive since these are details we can relate to, even if what we eat and drink and where we live is different today.
Some dependable online research sources I’ve used over the years are Project Gutenberg, the Library of Congress, the Victorian Web, V&A, and JSTOR. The History Quill has a list of 50+ research sites for writers of historical fiction. I also love to go to the library to see what books I can find, and I’ve found that librarians are more than happy to help if I can’t find what I’m looking for.
I love learning about history, so researching historical fiction is actually fun for me.
Thank you so much for sharing your post with us. Research can indeed be a rabbit hole from which you can’t return:)
Here’s the blurb;
How would you deal with the madness of the Salem witch hunts?
In 1690, James Wentworth arrives in Salem in the Massachusetts Bay Colony with his father, John, hoping to continue the success of John’s mercantile business. While in Salem, James falls in love with Elizabeth Jones, a farmer’s daughter. Though they are virtually strangers when they marry, the love between James and Elizabeth grows quickly into a passion that will transcend time.
But something evil lurks down Salem way. Soon many in Salem, town and village, are accused of practicing witchcraft and sending their shapes to harm others. Despite the madness surrounding them, James and Elizabeth are determined to continue the peaceful, loving life they have created together. Will their love for one another carry them through the most difficult challenge of all?
Meet the Author
Meredith Allard is the author of the bestselling paranormal historical Loving Husband Trilogy. Her sweet Victorian romance, When It Rained at Hembry Castle, was named a best historical novel by IndieReader. Her nonfiction book, Painting the Past: A Guide for Writing Historical Fiction, was named a #1 New Release in Authorship and Creativity Self-Help by Amazon. When she isn’t writing she’s teaching writing, and she has taught writing to students ages five to 75. She loves books, cats, and coffee, though not always in that order. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit Meredith online at http://www.meredithallard.com.
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