1. Fish
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    Fish New Member

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    Research for a historic novel

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Fish, Jan 5, 2010.

    How to you go about researching a book that is set in a perticuler time? I find it hard to find the right books and end up steeped in so much information i know, no more about the period than when i started.
     
  2. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    First figure out what you want the story to be about. If it is going to be non-fiction, research the person or people you are going to write about. If you are planning to write historical fiction, choose a certain event in history that you want to base it on. Make notes on where you want your MC to go and what you want your MC to do. If your MC is going to be a man who worked at the Nuclear plant in Chernobyl, read the account of people who experienced it. Find out what happened, and what these men and women went through. Place your character in that moment in history, and write about how the events affect him. Imagine that you are the character. How would your character react to the events that are happening? If your not sure, see how other people reacted at the time. If you wonder how life at home was, research that as well.
    Research what you need to know. You can research how farmers of that time grew their crops, but if your story takes place in the city, such information would be irrelevant to the plot. As you work out the plot, research. When you write your story, research. Whenever you have a question, research.
    As always, it is best to write about what you know. If you find World War II fascinating, then it is going to be a lot easier to write about it. You will still need to research, but it will be easier than writing about it when you don't even know where Germany is.
     
  3. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends on the period. For example, if you're going back to the 18th century you can look at old legal cases, land deeds, memoirs, papers in university libraries, books/articles on social history, housekeeping records, census records and news sheets, ask for help from teachers etc.

    But if you're going back just as far as e.g.the 1950s, you can study other things as well, like old films, TV programs, magazines, and interview people who lived at that time.

    Like Eve says, you need to narrow down what period/event you're going to concentrate on, and who your MC will be before you can do your research efficiently. Otherwise, you'll have the problem you mention, of finding yourself in a bog of information that is too much to handle, and you'll never get down to writing the story.

    Don't forget that for people living in the period you chose to do, ordinary, commonplace everyday objects wouldn't be explained/discussed, I mean you wouldn't say: "Did you iron my jeans, hun? You know, pass that metal pressing device over the pants I wear when I'm dressing informally?" so don't feel you have to elaborate about everything. It's the story that will matter in the end.
     
  4. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd suggest that you research that civilisation's oral history, or any legends you can find. Yes, there are records and legends from the 1800s that weren't written down. I've found out information about people who lived thousands of years ago in Gaelic Scotland, and we're famous for not writing anything down; the things I've found out, from many different people, have been lost to history for at least a few hundred years.

    Of course, there are obvious risks; but oral stories change as often as written sources are biased, so if more than one person says the same thing and they aren't connected to each other, then it's probably correct.

    How to find them? I use Facebook, Tir nam Blog, etc. It works. You need to do some searching for people, and possibly join some forums for people who will know something that you'd find interesting, targeting specific clans, regions, linguisitc groups, etc. If you're researching a civilisation that has almost disappeared, then you should follow the diaspora, and find whatever information you can amongst their descendants. Oral history is impossible to burn, so there'll still be remnants of it hundreds of years on, or even specific details, that make sense when you put them together.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    good advice above... when following it, remember google and your local libary are your best friends...
     
  6. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    Is it historic fiction or historic nonfiction? If it is historic nonfiction then I sugguest reading everything you can about the time frame. Don't be afraid to use Google. If you are writing historic fiction, however, I would research the historic fiction end of things as well. ;) I'd say:

    - The library
    - Google
    - Your college's/high school's library
    - Anyone who you can find that was alive in that time frame (if you can)
    - Books, books, books (ebay, library, anything)

    Hope that helped, some...
     
  7. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Historical fiction usually has a hero that does not really exist (in my experience.) The first thing you want to do is start with a macro-outlook on the events of your chosen time and place. Choose important historical figures and try to piece together where they are and when. You will most likely choose a few of these individuals to encounter your character. Read their bios and get to know them before writing into your story. Find specific events you want your character to experience and research them. Last but not least – and you should already be a fan of history because this will then be much easier – research the technology, the society, and the ideology of the time. Then write.
     
  8. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't try to do all of your research all at once. If you try to accumulate a book's worth of research at the front-end, you will overwhelm yourself and truly feel as though you know no more when you are finished than when you started.

    Start your manuscript. When you come to a particular area that demands more accuracy in portrayal, do your research on that. Keep notes and links for future reference and go from there. When you come to the next 'bump in the road', go back to your research. Again, keep notes and links in a file. Before long, you will come to a point and say, "I've got that!" and you may not even need to reference your store of info or reach out to the etherworld for more 411. You will be amazed at just how much you can learn just by doing a little at a time. The hispanic world has a saying (one of many!) - 'Poco a poco se va lejos.' It translates to: Little by little you go far. It is a bastardization of awell-known ancient Chinese saying - A journey of a thousand miles begins with just one step. The meaning is the same. Don't try to do it all at once, start small. Taking a thousand small steps will lead you anywhere you want to go (And your friends will wonder why, with your wealth of knowledge, you're not on Jeopardy!)

    Poco a poco.

    And, while we're in the 'neighborhood' - which is correct, 'a historical novel' or 'an historical novel'?
     
  9. Operaghost
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    Operaghost Contributing Member

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    Know your story first, regardless of the time its set you will have some idea of how you want the story to develop, and then base the research around this specifically, yes it helps to have the extra stuff to get a feel for the period, but it is of no use if you haven’t researched what your characters life would have been like.
     
  10. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    'A historical novel'. Historical doesn't start with a vowel, my friend.

    On topic: as I've said in other topics, fantasy with the 'taste' of a certain era and culture requires research into that era and culture, so I've garnered quite a body of experience in research techniques. Being a student also tends to give you a little practice. ;)

    I'd recommend starting with the philosophic, religious, and political beliefs of the era and area; in my experience, they tend to be the most influential when determining the way people lived their lives. From there you can move onto food, architecture, housing, technology (which, of course, has the biggest aesthetic effect on your story), and social structure. I also recommend doing similar research on surrounding periods and nations to get a better idea how the area you use fitted into the 'bigger picture'.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It depends on how you pronounce 'historical' (and that is regional). If you pronounce it with a silent 'h', then you use 'an' for the indefinite article.

    It doesn't matter how a word is spelled. If it begins with a vowel sound, you use 'an', otherwise you use 'a'.

    An FBI agent. (eff bee eye). A YA story (why ay).
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!
     
  13. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    Actually, it is the spelling, Cog. FBI is an acronym and thus the letters are being 'pronounced' rather than the word itself. FBI is simply the three letters 'eff' 'bee' and 'ie'. Otherwise "an hurricane" would be correct when the writer pronounced it as 'urricane, as certain regional dialects are prone to do.

    Imagine if a writer from a hypothetical region where 'c' is always silent used your rule; "an country", "an casanova-like figure", "an carrier".
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You are contradicting yourself, Delphinius. It is not the spelling, it is the pronunciation that determines which indefinite article you use.

    There is an acronym in computer science, SQL. It can be pronounced either as "ess queue ell" or "sequel." If you use the former, you would speak of "an SQL script," and if the latter, you would say "a SQL script."

    'Historic' happens to be one of those rare words that can be pronounced as an initial consonant sound or an initial vowel sound.

    In your hypothetical locale, if the 'c' in country were silent, you would indeed use 'an' as the indefinite article.
     
  15. Delphinus
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    Delphinus Senior Member

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    It seems I was wrong. Sorry. :D

    Although it does beg the question of whether one should write in the 'proper' dialect of the language or in their regional dialect. If you speak with a cockney accent, should you write with one, too?
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, my understanding of the "a" - "an" question is specific to variants of 'history'.
    History - the emphasis on the first syllable is pronounced with a 'hard' "H" sound and, therefore, would be preceeded by an 'a'. With any 4-syllable derivation thereof, the emphasis is on the second syllable and therefore the "H" is a 'soft' sound and the word would be prefaced by an 'an'.

    I just brought up the question as a sort of brain teaser.

    (Delphinius, as Cogito said, it's not the spelling, it's the pronunciation that's important.)

    And you are right, Cog, in that there is a geographical issue involved but, outside of Great Britain, is there anywhere else an otherwise silent "H" would be pronounced? (As far as I am aware, the accepted American pronunciation is with a soft "H" sound.)
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    writing an accent is a tricky thing to pull off successfully... too much of it will annoy the reader... and it's hard to write accents phonetically and have it make sense to one who doesn't speak that way...
     

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