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Genres & Age Categories => Historical Fiction => Topic started by: cyn2write on November 09, 2011, 04:45 AM

Title: Writing my first historical...
Post by: cyn2write on November 09, 2011, 04:45 AM
This isn't the first historical I've started, but it's the first that I want to finish! It's a historical fantasy based in 1905. It takes place aboard a train, and I'm lucky to have a husband with an almost encyclopedic knowledge of railroad history. However, I find even the smallest things, I just don't know! Nearly every sentence, I find myself going off and having to research something. And then when I read it over, I am so filled with questions as to whether that is proper for the timeframe that I have to research some more. I'm loving the book, but terrified of making a mistake and having historians hunt me down and smack me silly.

For those of you who write historicals, how much do you fudge? Have you ever had anyone come back to you and tell you you got it wrong? And how do you get over the fear and just write? Help?
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: ghostgirl on November 09, 2011, 05:27 AM
I know exactly what you mean, Cyn. I've stopped just to find the right brand name for an 1850 stove! That's why it takes me so long to get the first draft down!  But I will say this...forge ahead over the smaller things and make yourself notes.  Give yourself research breaks every now and then, especially if it is a big historical point, but remember that you can tweak things later. 

Like you, I have a strong fantasy element to mine, so I do allow myself a little room for embellishment.  If the story is solid, your editor will pick away at the historical details during the editing process...especially if you get someone like Carolyn Yoder who is meticulous—awesome, but meticulous. 

Good luck!  :clover1:
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: tulipwars on November 09, 2011, 05:39 AM
I'm writing my first historical fantasy, too!  (Yorkshire 1834) I was at a conference this weekend with the Canadian historical writer Caroline Pignat.  She puts an XX in place of what she doesn't know and just continues writing.  She sets aside a day or a half day during the week to do the research all at once. (She uses XX because it is easily searchable in a Word document.)  I thought it was a great idea.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Stephanie J. Blake on November 09, 2011, 06:42 AM
I am in my final round of edits for a historical set in 1959. I have a folder in my internet favorites for links that I have found. Also, it helped to have a 1959 calender handy. I've even used a weather almanac and know when the full moons happened. :) But, I find that if I get caught up in research I can lose a whole afternoon reading fascinating facts that I may or may not even need. I have a couple of books about 1959 and read them first, taking note of certain dates, clothing styles, hair, food, and slang terms, etc.. Also, Wikipedia helped with important dates. Just keep writing. You can check things later.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: CyndyHenzel on November 09, 2011, 07:58 AM
I agree to just keep writing. You have lots of time to go back and find what newspaper was published then, etc. I write nonfiction as well as historicals, so know the gut-wrenching fear of making a mistake. I find it helps to read a book or two written AT that time. It gives a different perspective than books written ABOUT that time -- where you are getting the filtering of another writer's research.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Marissa Doyle on November 09, 2011, 08:02 AM
I fudge as little as possible on historical details because it's my personal thing--I WANT it to be as accurate as I can make it (while trying to accept that I am surely going to #%&! it up somewhere).  But I feel I owe it to readers and...well, to the past itself to get it right.  My WIP is set in a different time and place (the US in 1901) from my area of expertise (19th century England), and it's been a lot more work--on past books, so many details were already there in my head because I'd studied the period so long...but now, I'm having to stop and look things up.  I also do the XX method to go back and insert details, but I'll also stop and get lost in on-the-spot research when it feels right to--those side trips can produce lovely plot fodder.  I've spent a small fortune on research books--thank heavens they're all mostly pretty cheap on Abebooks!--and I read them when not actually at work, which helps.  What I've found is a wonderful resource is period magazines--I've got all the Harper's Weeklys for the summer of when my book is set, and pore over them, as well as copies of Collier's and McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal.  The ads are wonderful, and the whole thing is great for giving the flavor of the period.  Check out eBay for them.

But that being said, yes, some fudging is just fine, especially in the service of the story--after all, we are writing stories.  So I've made up products, and have historical figures in places where they weren't necessarily at a given date, so long as they remain in character, so to speak.  That's what Author's Notes are for.  :yup    

Do you know what's worse than having someone tell you you got a detail wrong?  Having someone tell you you've gotten a detail wrong when you haven't.   :slaphead: After that happened to me with my first book, I decided that all I could do was do my very best to get it right and not worry about other people.  

Hugs, Cyn--I know it can be daunting, but I know you'll do a good job.  PM me if you'd like.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: cyn2write on November 09, 2011, 10:25 AM
Thank you so much, everyone! I took all of your advice of just pushing through and wrote 1,000 (hopefully good) words on my lunch hour. Definitely freeing! And I do like the idea of putting XX's wherever I have to research.

And thanks Marissa for the magazine idea... I am going to scour eBay right now as that's exactly what I need!

Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: writer928 on November 09, 2011, 11:04 AM
I also set aside research to tackle later (I enjoy it, actually). Online archives for The New York Times are helpful. I've also used a UK archive:
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Jaclyn Dolamore on November 09, 2011, 11:35 AM
Everyone else has given good advice, I'm just here for sympathy. I write fantasy with a strong historical flavor for which I do a TON of research, and yet STILL the idea of doing a true historical paralyzes me! I'm dipping my toe in slowly, I started with just a general fictionalized Victorian era, now I've moved up to where my WIP is set in a fictionalized version of a particular city in America, but I still haven't attempted one that is truly rooted in reality...
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: rab on November 09, 2011, 05:32 PM
I think I agree with everything everybody has said here, especially everything Marissa said. I fifteenth the idea of keeping on going and filling in details later, although it's also true that researching can lead to nifty plot elements. The downside of research I learned in the first billion drafts of a straight historical novel: sometimes the research, not the story, ended up taking precedence. Or I'd include things because they were just so cool, even if they had nothing to do with the story. In order to actually get the novel published, I had to learn to let the story, not the research, lead.

We've talked about this on other threads, but when I read historical fiction, I judge it in terms of the characters' attitudes much more than I do the small details. If attitudes and behavior are anachronistic and seem more like the 21st century than the period when the novel is set, I am unhappy.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Vijaya on November 09, 2011, 05:35 PM
Welcome to the club! I don't have anything new to add, but if I'm in story mode I write FIND OUT X and keep on going. I can spend hours researching and taking notes and use it as a form of procrastination, so when I'm writing, I try to unplug from the internet and just write. Not always easy because sometimes I get too stuck in what I don't know and must study.

Good luck,
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: writer928 on November 10, 2011, 07:34 AM
Wanted to add ... Google Books: is also a good source for out-of-print info. I used it for some French Revolution and World War Two fact checking.

I agree with the posts above. Sometimes I get so caught up in the research aspect (because it’s fun:) then I realize it may be a fact that’s not essential to the story. Also, it’s interesting when you start digging deep. Many reliable sources can have contradictory information.   
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: austen on November 10, 2011, 08:00 AM
I'm enjoying this thread. I have let the lure of research stop the story too many times.
Now, I'm in revision mode, and I'm finding it's not that hard to fact-check and make changes as necessary.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Susan on November 10, 2011, 08:03 AM
And remember that you can always post those fascinating but extraneous bits of lore on a blog or the book's web site someday.

Look at Marissa Doyle's blog to see how well it can be done.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: xiaotien on November 10, 2011, 08:38 AM
one of my dreams is to write a straight historical
or a historical fantasy one day.

cyn, yours sounds fantastic and i wish you best of luck!

i really struggled with Silver Phoenix and got mired in the
historical details. then realized that i wasn't trying to write
a historical fantasy, but simply one that read so--that you
can tell it was influenced by it.

it gave me the liberty to create the customs and monsters
and demons i needed but still use the wonderful customs,
folklore, clothing and architecture of china.

i think historicals and hisotrical fantasies are super
challenging so kudos to those of you who write them!
it's one of my favorite genres to read.

Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: J-Bert on November 10, 2011, 08:39 AM
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Liz on November 10, 2011, 11:08 AM
bookmarking this helpful thread
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: ecb on November 11, 2011, 02:06 PM
I have nothing to add, except that I'm so excited to see you guys working on historical fantasies!!  I'm working in a new period, too, and it is a bit daunting, particularly since some of the research is for a whole different region than I'm comfortable with, and am petrified about starting the journey to find the things I need to know. (At the moment, I need a common Eastern European place name.)

(And Cindy, you *do* write historical fantasy. :))
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Marissa Doyle on November 19, 2011, 07:16 AM
Another fabulous source if you're writing American in the 1890s-1920s are the facsimiles of old Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues.  I have one for 1902, and was just looking at the ladies' bathing suits...and found that they're identical to the bathing suits in a Charles Dana Gibson cartoon of about the same year...which just made my day for some reason.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: olmue on November 19, 2011, 07:28 AM
Ooh, historical fantasy + trains! Sounds fabulous. :) Good luck there.

Ecb, if you want to make up a Slavic-sounding place name, take a Slavic first name-ish sort of word and add -ice or --ovice onto the end of it. It's like saying, the village of (insert original settler here). Or, I could pull a handy name out of Czech genealogical research for you. :)

Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: ecb on November 20, 2011, 09:27 AM
Rose, I think I love you. :werd

I've actually sorted myself out a bit since that "petrified" post :dr and started pulling together better resources, and now have at least a plan regarding the place name. Onward!
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Brenda Leahy Johnson on November 27, 2011, 01:58 PM
I have enjoyed reading through all these posts. I've finished my first YA historical, and found the research daunting, fun and an excuse to travel to check out details that I couldn't research online or in books. What amazed me was how helpful so many people were, at museums, art galleries, libraries and the like. Thank you to all those people who write non-fiction books on minutae of daily life in history! One of my favorite examples is The Coachmen of Nineteenth-Century Paris: Service Workers and Class Consciousness .
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: m_stiefvater on November 28, 2011, 07:58 PM
This is scary territory. The Scorpio Races is historical, but it's alternative history (believe it or not, there are no homicidal water horses in our current timeline), so it's not quite as precise. I did LOADS of research, because for me, research and historical truth has suggested story to me far more often than it's hindered it. I write at the same time that I research, though, and if I can't verify something, I pull it out. Likewise, it inspires me when I get stuck.
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Susan on December 17, 2011, 08:26 AM
I am compelled to share my own favorite research resource--a book entitled THE SMALLEST ROOM, by John Pudney (c. 1955).

Yes, it describes loos through the ages, with lots of illustrations. You can still find it in some libraries (I stumbled upon it once, in the stacks of Pittsburgh's big Carnegie), and you can occasionally find copies on the Web.

And it's a hoot to read. (Makes a perfect . . . bathroom book.)     :bubblebath

I guess this calls for some normally neglected smilies. 

   :poop      :poopfan
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: robineg on December 19, 2011, 11:34 AM
Another thing you can do if you get really stuck is get in contact with the staff at local history museums, especially living history museums that re-enact your time period for visitors, especially in the region where your story takes place. Those folks eat, breathe, and sleep period details to help educate the public, and if you can go visit them, they usually can give you rich details that can really bring a story to life. If there are historic houses or inns, etc. that could be a good place to start. Another angle is to find a company that does historical walking tours and ask if one of their senior guides would be willing to answer a couple of questions. This is not instead of book research, but adds another dimension to it. Oftentimes those living history museums afford you the chance to do hands-on research with using historical objects, etc. 
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Michaela MacColl on December 22, 2011, 08:08 PM
I have found that if you find the right docent at a museum, ie the person who really cares!, you can get great information. When I was at Kensington Palace researching for Prisoners in the Palace I kept asking questions about Princess Victoria. But all the docents were experts on Princess Di. Finally someone said, "she needs Clare. Clare is the expert." Clare was and she took me places I could not see on the regular tour and gave me details that made it into the book. She was so pleased to find someone who was as interested in Victoria as she was!
Title: Re: Writing my first historical...
Post by: Elisabeth on March 30, 2012, 09:32 AM
since I'm also working on an alternate history/fantasy kind of thng  :grin