Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Adding in the History




I’m writing a historical fiction novel, which was such a big, daunting thing to me when I started (and still kind of is sometimes), that I was tempted to make the storyline take place in an alternate universe just so I wouldn’t have to do the research to make it somewhat historically accurate.
Yes, that’s called laziness. I’d always written fantasy before, and the joy of fantasy is you can make up your own reality and no one can tell you it’s wrong. But, at some point I decided it had to be done. My novel wanted to take place in the real world. Still, I decided to write out a first draft before doing any historical research. I didn’t want my story to be defined by my research; I just wanted the research to make the story believable in the time period I was writing it.
What helped me about writing my draft before I researched is now I know exactly what I’m looking for. I made a lot of notes as I went along of things I was unsure about, questions I had about what technology existed at that time, what clothes were in style, what they did for fun, what people did for work, etc. I had vague ideas from things like A Room with a View and Downton Abbey, but sometimes you get really specific in a novel and you don’t want to get it horribly wrong. It’s kind of terrifying sometimes, that that one history expert one day will read what I’m writing and just be horrified at me. So I try.
Now that I’m closing in on finishing my first draft (I think my personal NaNoWriMo is going to be making myself just get that done!), I’ve started gathering some books. Wikipedia only got me so far. My time period is late 1890s-early 1900s England, so the very end of the Victorian era and the very beginning of the Edwardian. Turns out, not the most popular era to write educational books on. It’s been harder than I thought to find the material I want. I don’t know what people did before the days of Amazon and Goodreads, because the library and the bookstore did not come through like I thought they would. Thanks to the internet, I've found some good books and some of them got sent straight to my Kindle.
The Boer War also factors largely into the story line of my novel. It was actually amazing how well the Boer War fit into the story line I had already made up with knowing at all what I was doing beforehand. It’s like it was meant to be. The Boer War took place in Africa, most of the soldiers died of diseases, and it was just a badly planned disaster—perfect for my narrative purposes. Hurrah. But, I found a total of two books at the library on it. A little bit depressing, except that one of them was written by Winston Churchill. Did you know he was a journalist in the Boer War before he was prime minister of England? I sure didn’t.
Some of my history-related questions are getting so specific I may have to go find myself a history professor someday and bombard him with my author craziness. I wonder if he’ll even know everything I want to know. Probably by that point I should figure that no one will know and be satisfied. Then I will have to begin the task of deciding what needs to be included in my story and what will just be exhausting info-dump. I hope that having already written my first draft will help with that too. I’ll just be inserting the info I’ve found where I already know I need it. Wish me luck.

2 comments:

Bruce Luck said...

I like the idea of writing the story first then doing the research.

Scott said...

I'm working on my second story that requires a lot of research. I immerse myself in the time period so I can try to reflect how it felt as much as what life was like. I always end up putting way more of my research into the story than is desirable, but when I strip it out, some of the sense remains. At least in theory. Some research can be added after the main story is written, but some period stuff affects the story itself and can't be separated. Not just the plot, but also the characterization. but most of my research is more for my own insights than actual use in the story.

I like the idea, though, and I do that to some extent because I continue my research even after I start writing, so there's always stuff to add.