When you write historical fiction, there is a need to do some research: research on the time period, the clothes people wore and the foods they ate during that time period, the cost of things during that time period, occupations of that time period, the way people spoke/words that were and weren’t used and more. Also, if your story is set in what was a real place in that time period, you need to know what that place was like, what the weather was like, what the land and buildings looked like.
In addition to time and place, you may choose to have one of your characters working a job you are unfamiliar with or that is no longer an occupation in today’s world or that requires them to work with tools or animals you are unfamiliar with. These things will then need to be researched also.
Research is time consuming, but it can be quite fun. You will learn interesting things that you may find fascinating. You may even find them leading you to research something else as another idea for something to include in your story may arise.
Being something between a plotter and a pantser, when I was in the beginning stages of my novel, I researched what I felt I needed to have accurate information about; mostly setting — place and time period. I also researched names to be sure my character’s didn’t have names that couldn’t possibly have been used in the time period. I had a good idea of what people wore but I still did some research to be sure, but I didn’t spend as much time on this as I did on the setting components. I researched a couple of occupations, one a lot more than the others.
Okay, you might think, but where did you look for the information you needed? Well, I did a lot of research online. The internet is a wealth of information, as long as you are careful and check that the websites and/or blogs you get your information from are accurate and legitimate. I never go to Wikipedia without checking other places to be sure the information lines up, and I rarely use Wikipedia.
One great source for historical research are the websites of museums. In addition, you may want to call the museum and ask if they have any information they would be willing to send to you through snailmail. I recently did this and was surprised at how easy it was. I thought I may have to pay a fee, at least to cover postage and handling, but the lady I spoke with was willing to gather information and send two packets to me. I was so excited! I can’t wait for these packets to arrive. I check my mailbox everyday, Monday through Saturday. It is is currently about a week and a half and I’m still eagerly awaiting my packets.
Other great resources: if your story’s time period isn’t too far in the past, older folk who lived during that time love to share memories, books (biographies, diaries and journals or logbooks written by someone who lived in your time period) are still a great resource, speaking with an historian who specializes in your story’s time period, and old newspapers or newspaper archives. Of course, if your story’s setting — place, isn’t too far away and it’s feasible for you to go there, visiting the actual place and checking out the museums and historical tourist spots is a great resource that really gives you a visual and makes your story’s place come to life.
Do you write historical fiction? What is your favorite research resource?