And now I am welcoming Meg Mims to my blog, in return for her gracious hosting of me. She has written a terrific little essay on the importance of research in historical fiction. I found it a hoot, but then I was a librarian for sixteen years…
Getting the Research Details Right
How easy is it to research? If you’re a diehard librarian or bookworm, it’s easy. Trawl the shelves, pore over bibliographies for even more sources—especially original sources such as diaries, letters, or books written in the past century. As a last resort, do a Google search for any details you may have missed.
What if the idea of research is a four-letter word to you? What if you hate all that extra hard work? What if you think your readers won’t know the difference?
Readers nowadays (and in the past, for that matter) are savvy. They’ve watched PBS series such as Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abby and Upstairs, Downstairs, Ken Burns’ Civil War series and other documentaries, plus they’ve read an extensive amount. They also have an uncanny ability to “sense” when something’s ‘hinky’ – and that will throw them out of the story in two seconds flat. Sorry about the cliché, but it’s true. And the truth sometimes hurts.
It hurts authors in reviews, for one thing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a reader or review criticize me on wanting more romance than mystery than some minor detail like “they didn’t have modern plumbing on trains back in 1869.” And no, they didn’t. Trust me on that—I researched that before I started writing my western-set historical. Travelers lifted the commode lid and saw the train tracks flashing beneath, so no wonder railroad tracks were so unhygienic after a few decades! Ugh.
Me? I love research. Give me a stack of books or photo-studded websites and I’m there with bells on! I can’t explain that wonderful “Aha!” feeling when I stumble over a really fabulous and authentic detail I can utilize in my books. Call me crazy. Call me an old-fashioned library hound. But I can usually make a call on spotting a research detail problem in a book—from a modern phrase to an inaccurate setting or the wrong costume for a character. Why? Because I’ve made those mistakes too. And learned from it.
And learned from them. That’s the key, to know better and take the time to do the hard work rather than take the easy way out. The devil is in the details, after all.
Ms. Mims’s new books are
They are available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Astraea Press.
Her website is http://www.megmims.com/.
Thank you for visiting, my fellow Meg!