Research for Writing Historical Novels

I’m a history lover, an avid reader, and an experienced novelist, so writing books set back in time should be as easy as plucking ripe berries, right? Or so thought I, the inexperienced, fresh-faced, new historical novelist, a few years back.

I recently spent some time pruning fruiting, fragrant blackberry brambles, and it occurred to me that effort was similar to the shaping of books. Too few historical facts may allow for a clean, straight plot but will leave a book barren of the delights we hope to indulge in, the places and eras we want to be transported to when reading stories set in the past. Too many historical facts can overtake the story itself, tangling the path in sweet details that turn out to be irrelevant, sometimes losing the plot altogether. Errors in fact or chronology can be herbicides, killing off interest in the work altogether for those readers already well-read in an era. In the interest of helping other authors cultivate, prune, and order the details, I offer four tips discovered along the way…

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