I love historical fiction; however, I encounter the occasional work in which it’s clear the author hasn’t done sufficient research. So, today I thought I’d share my three top tips on conducting research for your historical novel.
1) Read Contemporary Literature
Assuming your work is set from the Middle Ages onward, you should have no trouble finding texts from that time. Read them to get a feel for the cadence of the language as this will help you achieve a sense of authenticity in your dialogue in particular but also in your prose.
2) Verify Your Sources
There are plenty of websites offering historical information, but are they all accurate? An Internet search can be a great way to start your research, but take care over where you place your trust. Ensure it is a reputable source. The same goes for books; although, in general, I would trust a non-fiction text by a well-known historian over a web page created by a nameless entity.
3) Watch Your Language!
One of the worst areas for slip-ups tends to be dialogue. I’ve seen works in which the author offers careful detail of period clothing and customs but then ruins all that by having characters say “okay” or “cool”. I try to keep my stories period appropriate in both dialogue and prose, but at least pay attention to the dialogue. If you are unsure about a word, plug it into the Merriam Webster website, as their dictionary definitions usually include a first usage date. If you’re still in doubt and have a reasonable alternate word, use that.