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Question...? Historical fiction – when to stop researching?

Question...? Ancient names in modern fiction

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Rich.

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Hi folks,

This is a pretty open question (perhaps also a how-long-is-a-piece-of-string? question), but I know some of you write historical fiction, so I thought I'd ask.

At what point do you say, "Enough already, these are my sources and now I must write"?

I appreciate that research is an ongoing process, especially for the detail, but as far as the big picture is concerned, the context...

When do you put down the books and pick up the pen?

:)
 
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I'm late to this, Rich, but I would say when you feel confident that you can inhabit the world sufficient to tell a story in it with characters who aren't just modern people in fancy dress. You will need to find out details as they crop up of course.

Steve C

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Tricky one. I like historical stuff but doubt I could write it. From a reader's POV I think the story is all important, as ever, and so long as the writer is not taking liberties with the factual past that's what I would focus on. You are writing fiction so I wouldn't be pedantic about the facts. Saying Willy the Conqueror invaded in 1266 wouldn't go down too well but for minor stuff then never mind, who's gonna know? I guess it also depends on how you set things up. If you present it as fact then it needs to be true.
Personally, I admire those who can write about something they haven't experienced. It seems a masochistic thing to do :)
 
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Barbara

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The fact you're wondering makes me think you're full enough for now and that you're ready. You can always research more as you go along, like during those times when the writing doesn't flow. I sometimes use research to get me through sticky times. It often triggers ideas.
 
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Jonny

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I have no experience in historical fiction but I would imagine the scope for researching opens up a neverending labyrinth of sources, where you could easily get lost if you don't unravel a long piece of string when you enter.

Were it me then I'd make a start and get scribbling. You can always have plenty of coffee stops / research breaks if you feel you need to consult some worthy tome to ensure you're getting the history bit bang-on.
 
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Rich.

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...I think the story is all important, as ever...
True.

The fact you're wondering makes me think you're full enough for now and that you're ready. You can always research more as you go along...
True.

...sometimes it’s easier to do the research than to actually start to write. It’s a great way to procrastinate...
True.

Were it me then I'd make a start and get scribbling. You can always have plenty of coffee stops / research breaks if you feel you need to consult some worthy tome to ensure you're getting the history bit bang-on.
True.

--

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

--

Right. Where's my pen?

Thanks, you guys. :)
 
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CageSage

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Getting lost in fact-checking, rabbit holes of information, lost continents of other peoples writing, won't help you finish the book.
The 'plan' will help you set boundaries on how much you need to do before writing, but generally I'd say the following:

Knowing enough to immerse yourself in that setting as you write is important, and there will always be things that pop up for fact-checking as you write. You don't need to know how the underwear was made, but you might need to know if it itched when wet.
If you can write from within the realms of the historical moment, you're ready, but you will have to emerge to validate bits and pieces.
That's the life, yeah ...
 
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Victoria Bastedo

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Interesting question. One of my favorite researchers is Laura Hillenbrand, who writes such accurate history combined with the human aspect. Both Seabiscuit and Unbroken read like a novel, and yet, I learned from the books. History I hadn't understood before was explained clearly and yet with the historical pen. I think research in stories should be like that, true but not only understood by the scholar.
 
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Hannah F

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It's also important to be sparing on the historical facts while you write. When you discover stuff that's so interesting that you think you must add it in, think again. Historical novels can really drag when an author includes more historical fact than is needed for the story.
 
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Rich.

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...with characters who aren't just modern people in fancy dress.
This is the nebulous thought (one of many) I've been wrestling with, and you've just put it into words. It seems so obvious (now), but I needed someone to say it. It helps a lot that you have, so thank you! :)

I've recently rewatched Ridley Scott's (oft-underrated) The Duellists. The way that film explores honour is, I think, a fine example of what you're getting at – but it's taken you to make that comment for me to see it clearly.
 
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Leonora

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This is the nebulous thought (one of many) I've been wrestling with, and you've just put it into words. It seems so obvious (now), but I needed someone to say it. It helps a lot that you have, so thank you! :)

I've recently rewatched Ridley Scott's (oft-underrated) The Duellists. The way that film explores honour is, I think, a fine example of what you're getting at – but it's taken you to make that comment for me to see it clearly.
Haven't seen that! Will search it out.
 
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Victoria Bastedo

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This is the nebulous thought (one of many) I've been wrestling with, and you've just put it into words. It seems so obvious (now), but I needed someone to say it. It helps a lot that you have, so thank you! :)

I've recently rewatched Ridley Scott's (oft-underrated) The Duellists. The way that film explores honour is, I think, a fine example of what you're getting at – but it's taken you to make that comment for me to see it clearly.
Wow, that is a good point. 'It takes a village to raise a child' is what they used to say. But what does the village consider good morality? How did people think about children in this time period? Were babies passed off to nannies, or what? When did childhood end?
 
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David Y

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I think the same question could be asked of any genre, any writing project. I've given myself this month to research/plot my new novel then will start writing on 1 Nov, come what may.
 
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Freddi Woomba

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Its likely obvious, but I like intertwining historical facts with my fluid story. I like learning from a book, like "In the empire of Ghengis Khan" or "Xanandu" .... But I also like the depth of narrative fiction. So I do my best to mingle both and let them dance together... Where do you find historical research. Only in the library and Google Searches? Buying e-books on the content? How do you know that 300 -1000 pages of data are not rubbish. I'm not a lawyer or a studied researcher. Cheers
 
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Rich.

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Where do you find historical research.
Good question! I think the first thing to do is figure out who are the leading researchers in the field you're interested in. You can Google that (university-course reading lists, usually available online, are also helpful here). And then you seek out their work. A good resource for academic papers, to answer more specific research questions, is JSTOR. You can register for free and (until the end of this year at least) read up to 100 articles a month for free.

Once you've read a few decent general introductions to the subject you're interested in, you start to see a basic agreed-version-of-events. Once you have that, you can start focussing your research. It's intimidating when you start, much like travelling, and the only way to conquer, or at least face, the fear is to dive right in.

In summary, Google (and even Wikipedia) to start, then general-introduction books, then specific-subject books, then academic papers and journals – in a never-ending cycle (if you're not careful) of knowledge-sating wonder. :)
 
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Freddi Woomba

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Never thought about checking for leading researchers. I'm always worried that my facts are full of holes, but at the same time I'm not D. F. W so... I'm not claiming a sealed ship by any means. Thanks for the pieces. I've taken notes. This is very helpful. While we are here and your handing out advice... I've just finished my night of edits... I'm constantly faced with the same dilemma. "want to", "it was" ,"there was" ... It's painful how many times these are used and "I" in first person narrative. I do my best to shift the passive voice and use new vocabulary. But it was/there was .. they are (lol) a disease.
 
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Rich.

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Best thing to do would be to put up some work in the Writing Workshops. Lay out your worries and invite some feedback. You'll soon get some pointers. (It's always easier to give a reaction when there's something concrete to react to.)
 
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Rich.

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Sure, and the general advice would be to concentrate on what things do instead of what they are; and in the case of first person, to trust the reader to follow you.

There was an ant's nest. I was surprised to see it, and I was positively shocked when the ants started pouring out. There seemed to be millions of them.
The ant's nest thrust out from the dirt – odd, here, to see that, really odd. And then the ants began to march, millions of them.

But if you put something up in the workshops, you'll get a more tailored response to your question. :)


EDITED: for typos
 
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Glen Wheeler

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Tricky one. I like historical stuff but doubt I could write it. From a reader's POV I think the story is all important, as ever, and so long as the writer is not taking liberties with the factual past that's what I would focus on. You are writing fiction so I wouldn't be pedantic about the facts. Saying Willy the Conqueror invaded in 1266 wouldn't go down too well but for minor stuff then never mind, who's gonna know? I guess it also depends on how you set things up. If you present it as fact then it needs to be true.
Personally, I admire those who can write about something they haven't experienced. It seems a masochistic thing to do :)
This is an interesting one. In Selene I have historical characters coming through time however I am changing things. Historically I am keeping them within their times however I am using popular thoughts from the times to weave that into their personalities... eg Anne Boleyn was thought by Henry VIII to have bewitched him so I have given her that power. So the purist would hate me but people with imagination hopefully will love it. It is after all fiction :) I would love to read it @Rich once you have finished.
 
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Question...? Ancient names in modern fiction

Looking for an interviewer

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