I love historical research and writing stories about the past. To me, the work of fitting my plot into a specific historical time period is a little like working a puzzle, and I love me a good puzzle! The pieces all get dumped out on a tabletop willy-nilly to begin with, it’s the only real way to start, but there are some hard fast rules when it comes to putting the big picture together and I adore the challenge that this presents.
I always begin by sorting out all of the edge pieces. I need to know the exact perimeter before I can really make a good start of things and I can’t fudge on this by cramming the wrong piece in where it doesn’t belong, otherwise someone is sure to notice that I’ve made it all crooked. But oh bother! A lot of the pieces look nearly the same and their differences are very slight, yet very real. How do I find the one I’m looking for?
This can be the biggest test when writing historical fiction. Like so many colored puzzle pieces, research sources sometimes offer similar but conflicting variations of the same “truth”. I used to drive myself nuts trying to determine who had it right and I still maintain that it’s very important to double and triple check your facts, but I often find that, in the end, I really just need to choose from the most promising of the batch and see how well it fits.
Once the edge is down, it’s time to sort the colors, shapes, and patterns into neat little piles. Though there is a lot more to work with here, the pieces won’t lock into place if I don’t keep to the rules. I like that. I can sit there in my pajamas for hours, turning things around and trying them this way and that until days or weeks or even months pass by and the individual bits of cardboard are transformed into an actual full-blown image. It’s just so satisfying to sit back and see how the separate pieces have disappeared into the overall picture when the puzzle is finally done.
I’ve run across many good research websites over the years and I’d like to share a few here. If you know of some you’d like to suggest, please post the links in the Comments section.
Thanks for reading and happy researching!
Carole Lanham is the author of The Whisper Jar (Morrigan Books/Oct2011) and The Reading Lessons (Immortal Ink Publishing/May 2013) Please give her books a look or visit her at one of her websites.
1000 Most popular Names of the 1890s
Flappers in the Roaring Twenties
A History of Women’s Underwear
Slavery in America
World War II Timeline