What is in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?
2074. Why will not a dull black teapot make good tea? 2075. Because the heat of the water flies off so quickly, through the dull black surface of the tea pot, that the water is very rapidly cooled, and cannot “draw” the tea.
It’s raining outside, the first in weeks. The Northwest is not normally dry for so long, but fall has finally come. A good time to make and work on queries. And maybe clean my tea pot.
I’ve been distracted for quite a while. Write On The Sound at the beginning of the month was a fun conference. My class on historical research for novels held 75 writers! Since then I worked revising my current novel and prepared for a talk on the bark Ann Parry at a local maritime society. ( I’m looking into her West Coast owner and waiting on a new set of 1857 newspapers on microfilm). I also did some fact checking on a type of car in a Depression novel that I’m currently querying. Which reminds me of research planning for historical fiction or any writing that takes place in some historic past. You have to know the lay of the land.
All Stories Are Set in Place and Time
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that first, you are writing a story that just happens to take place in historic times. Sometimes that translates different ways.
For some writers, such as Bernard Cornwell — one of my favorites for his Sharpe series — says that history comes first. He gets interested in a bit of history, such as the Battle of Waterloo and goes to it. Jack Whyte, wonderful writer of Knights Templar, Romans in Britain, says it’s a curiosity that gets him to write about a period.
Diana Gabaldon has Claire and Jamie, but boy did she learn a lot about hangmen, such as being bone setters and torturers. They even dallied in the amulet business. Somewhere along the line, however, all these writers had a research plan. And that’s what you need to do when writing historical pieces.
Creating a Research Plan: Ask Some Questions
What period are you writing in? What do you know about it so far? What is the technology? Transportation? Manners and social rules? Can you write down three things you know already?
Questions can lead to a basic book search. The internet is fun, but really a good place to start is the old school way. Read general books from the library on the period. Check out the bibliographies. Build a list of books. As you read, create a chart in which to develop answers to questions you might have about the world that your characters move through. Such as, what kind of lighting did they have in this time? Did they have lamps run on whale oil or kerosene? How did they light such a thing?
As answers to these basic building blocks that form your world grow, use the internet, but looked for sites that end with .edu or .org. They will be more reliable.
More on research plans next time. Now for a cup of tea.