Online Learning Blog

Researching Your Historical Novel

Published on 22nd July 2015 by Diana Nadin

First, you should decide what you need to know to make your novel more authentic and convincing. The next step is to think about where you can find the information you need. Thankfully, we live in a time where information is readily available and easily accessible. This means that there are a number of ways you can conduct your research.

You can visit your local library – there will be lots of books that you can consult in the reference section and they will probably have a local archive section (depending on the era in which you intend to set your novel). If in doubt, ask the librarian for help.

Soak up the atmosphere in buildings of the period you are writing about. If your book is set in medieval times, visit a castle, stately home or cathedral – but go armed with a camera and notebook and jot down all the little details that bring a room to life. Imagine your characters interacting in that setting.

Speak to experts – professors, archaeologist, historians and re-enactment enthusiasts can all help you verify facts or set the scene.

Talk to people that were alive at the time, if your book is set in the recent past. Ask to look at pictures they might have or memoirs they may have written. Encourage them to reminisce. Again, don’t forget your notebook and camera.

If you think you might revisit the era for future writing projects, buy books. They don’t need to be new – look in charity shops, car boot sales, ebay and Amazon marketplace.

And finally, your biggest resource: the Internet. Never underestimate what a powerful tool it can be when conducting research. There are thousands of websites dedicated to all periods in history. In addition there are forums or communities of people who re-enact famous battles or like to discuss a particular period of time. There are census records, military records, birth, death and marriage records… The list is endless but you will need time and patience to find what you need. And a word of warning: don’t believe everything you read. Always check information to verify that it’s correct.

This should give you the foundations to write a convincing novel with authentic detail. And once you’ve completed writing your novel, the research is there for any other articles, or short stories you might decide to write on that particular era. Or even, dare I say it, the sequel!