Monday 27 June 2022

Writing historical fiction? Keep detailed notes.

Just a few of my extensive
research books
I recently did a workshop on writing historical fiction at the IAmWriting Festival. In it, I reminded the attendees that anyone who writes historical novels more than any other writer will have to justify their writing. Only a week later I found myself doing exactly that when I received my most recent edits. 

The copy editor was quite rightly double-checking my research, a certain word I'd used, querying why I had made certain decisions. This can be quite a challenge because I have long-Covid and I don't always remember what I did yesterday, so remembering why I made a decision when writing over a year ago was going to be challenging.

Luckily for me, I might not be a planner, but I do make copious notes when I make a decision and I also list all websites I visit that I use for research. Plus being an academic, I tend to underline things that are relevant in books and use post-it notes to mark useful chapters. This means that when I am challenged over my research or my decisions I can go back to my notebooks and go through all my scribblings. I will invariably find the answer. Resulting in me being able to put a comment that explains my sources for the decision or if I think the editor has actually highlighted a weakness in my writing, I might add a sentence to add clarity as I may realise that I'm not getting across what I thought I was. It is too easy to fall into the trap of the author's assumed knowledge. I say this so often to my students, just because you can see it in your head, you need to get those images from your head onto the page by including some hints for the reader to pick up on.

Another resource
Helps with colours

It is a salutary reminder to keep good records so that you can support yourself and it also means you can double-check when you are editing or rewriting. Never underestimate the importance of good research. When writing historical fiction you will research far more than will ever appear in your story but it will inform your writing, adding depth to it. I love doing the research and finding a little nugget of detail which will lift the narrative. The reader may not notice it but I'll know it is there. The research should always have a light touch within the story and not be overwhelmed by it. The story comes first always.

I've a new idea for a children's story but am also writing a historical novel for adults at the moment and that is interesting. I have found some wonderful research for them both.  Those that know me well understand that the research process is one of the most exciting elements for me when writing.

Thinking out loud is something writers do quite frequently so I thought I'd share Ed Sheeran's version: