by Tamera Lynn Kraft
Anyone who writes historical fiction can tell you a lot of research goes into it. Beginners in the genre might wonder where to start. The following tips and sites are for nineteenth century research, but they can be used for any research project.
Travel: Your story will have a setting or location even if it’s a mythical town. If you can travel to that location and scope the land, you’ll be able to add details you could never find out from goggling.
For instance, I live in northern Ohio. Somewhere from another part of the country might not know that to an Ohioan toward the river means south and toward the lake means north. They also might not know that most days in northern Ohio are cloud covered. An author from Arizona, if she didn’t do her research, might have too many sunny days in a story about Ohio. Traveling to the area and asking questions of the natives will help eliminate some of those mistakes. If you can’t travel to where your setting is, find someone on the Internet who lives in the area and can scope it out for you.
Museums and Colleges: Almost every area of the country has local museums that specialize in local history. One thing most writers don’t realize is they love to talk about their history with writers. Calling these museums and asking for the curator will give you a resource that’s invaluable.
Local college history departments are also a great resource. Call the department and ask for an expert in the area you’re researching. One suggestion I would make is to have a list of questions ahead of time.
Maps: The nation has changed a lot in the last 150 years. Find old maps in the library or on the Internet to map out your setting before you write about it.
Google Earth: If you want to know the terrain of an area your setting is in and you can’t afford to travel, there is nothing like Google Earth to scout out the territory.
Dictionary: Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary will not only give you the definition of a word, it will give you the year of origin. This helps you know if any word you want to use is too modern for your historical. An example would be ruckus. If my story is dated 1858, I wouldn’t want to use that word because its year of origin isn’t until 1890. But I could use the word, fuss, because it’s been around since 1701.
Journals: Every time period has a way of saying things and a cultural mindset that is unique. One of the best ways to understand that mindset is to read journals written by people in that time period that might have had the same status and experiences as your main characters.
Pictures: Photographs are a great way to find out what people wore, how they did their hair, how they decorated their houses, and what their towns looked like.
Books: Books are still a great resource for historicals. Use a little creativity when it comes to checking out books. For instance, if you want to know what to call different parts of a steam train, a children’s book might be the best place to find the information.
Internet Searches: You can find out almost anything on the Internet if you know how to look. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, try different search words or a different search engine. Some of the most common are Google, Yahoo Search, MSN, and Bing.
Historical Blogs: There are many great historical blogs that have a host of information that can be useful when writing historicals. Two where I’m a contributor are Colonial Quills and Heroes, Heroines, and History.