I’m currently going through a lot of research for my novel-in-progress, Alone in Berlin, and it’s not easy. I’ve written a lot of historical fiction, but this one requires more research than any other I’ve written.
Also, I’ve just been working on The Chronicles of Alice and Ivy and the Kees & Colliers series for so long that those settings (Victorian UK and 1916 through homefront 1940s England and France) are ingrained into my brains. I do a bit of research for each new story … but hardly any.
But I want to write WWII fiction. I want it to be realistic. I don’t want to make a bunch of stupid mistakes that would misrepresent the era. And it’s giving me a tremendous headache.
I … am not a details person. I never have been. I like looking at the big picture and glazing over the little things and running through life full-speed without hesitation.
However, as a historical author, this can lead to some stupid errors. For instance, in the first published version of The Lady of the Vineyard (thankfully unpublished now), I referred to English taxis as “colorful.”
Yeah, even I knew that, but I still forgot to stop and think about it. I had to have a friend point it out to me!
And sometimes this is fine. We need people who are action-based and focus on the big picture and don’t hesitate (like so many of you blasted peeps do) (I love you, BUT JUST CHOOSE YOUR ICECREAM FLAVOR, YOU FLIPPIN’ PHILOSOPHER).
But a good writer—and specifically a good historical writer—needs to do the research to make their novels shine.
Do you have a point?
I actually don’t. *glares at you for considering leaving this post before I’m done ranting about things that can’t possibly interest you at all*
Okay, I do have a point! I want to talk about what I’m learning about novel writing research.
So let’s get into that.
What I’m Learning About Researching for Historical Novels
You’re going to learn a lot more than you need to know.
- Unless there is a book out there that specifically deals with the topic of your novel, you’re probably going to wade through a tome about the 3rd Reich which only has a few pages dedicated to the Nazi Youth.
- Yes, I can skim for the info I need, but that takes time. And I do end up picking up a lot I won’t use!
- Is that a bad thing? No, it isn’t! You might need it more, and knowledge is power. Knowing more details about a historical error isn’t going to kill you—and it won’t kill me, either.
Random plot bunnies tend to spring up.
- Me right now: “OMW—there is so much drama potential here which will not fit into this story. Hmm …”
- That is why my plot bunny list gets bigger and bigger every day. Research. Stupid research.
Nonfiction. You have to actually read nonfiction.
- I am probably the only person I know who hates all nonfiction so much that I would rather drive my car off a cliff than read it. Basically, I find it impossibly boring.
- Christian nonfiction irritates me because I feel like people are telling me how to interpret God, and I CAN DO THAT MYSELF. Biographies … I just don’t like. They’d have to be written like a novel for me to get through. Anything vaguely school booky reminds me of the worst years of my life—when I was suffering through education. *winces* And on and on. I dislike most nonfiction that’s longer than a blog post.
- (Sidenote: I could read all day about horses, dogs, cows, or other farm animals.) (That sort of thing is interesting.) (Books about writing aren’t bad, either.)
- BUT I HAVE TO READ IT NOW, in large amounts, AND HONESTLY UGHH. I hate it. Ah, well.
Taking notes is VERY important!
- I … do not remember 99% of what I read? So I either highlight the text that I need to remember or take notes. Also, I try to write down whatever is gonna be important in the outline itself so I don’t lose track of it.
- Because I don’t want to reread these books for sure. ?
You can definitely hone your skimming skills.
- I learned this in the days of my schooling. ? Okay, but really, the ability to skim through a novel—or in this case, a book about Nazis—is invaluable!
- So yep, my skimming skills are getting a run for their money, but so far it’s been working pretty well.
Obsessing over details is actually a good thing.
- I’ve never been super detail-oriented, but I have to learn to be, as I’ve said before.
So yep, that’s kind of what I’m going through right now.
Most of my research books haven’t arrived yet, but I’ve got a bit of a pile started! Mostly fiction “for research.” 😉 Okay, not for research … but you know. For reasons. Because I want to read them. ?
If you’re a writer, do you research for your novels? Why or why not? What kind of stuff do you usually have to research? If your search history littered with weird things? If you write any historical, what sort of things do you generally have to look up?