Writing historical fiction has changed a lot over the past decade. I know this because I wrote Daughters of Alba ten years ago with only the benefit of a handful of books from my local library. Now that I’m writing Sons of Alba, I’m finding a plethora of information on the web that simply wasn’t there before.
I write a lot about Scotland. Never been. It’s on my bucket list, you might say. But as an author there’s nothing like being able to stand in the middle of the place you want to describe. Kind of a limitation when you’re sitting in your Canadian living room. I mean, I have a great imagination, but it’s not perfect. 😉
So here are a few of the things I’ve happily discovered that have helped me with my research:
Wow! If I’d had that ten years ago … well, let’s just say my research would have been a lot easier. I find wikipedia useful for getting a broad overview of a place, person, or time. The most frustrating thing about historical research is wondering if you missed something. Skimming a wikipedia article helps me to see what the important points are, and I can focus my research from there.
Yes, we had Google ten years ago. But Google searches are different every few days as material on the web changes and grows. While I was writing Legacy of Faith, I kept searching my ancestors’ names every few months to see if anything new had popped up. I found a lot of new things, not least of which was an archived portrait of my 4X Great Grandfather that had been lost to our family. Talk about a treasure trove. Just because you’ve searched your topic once doesn’t mean you’ve found everything there is to find on the web.
Google Maps / Google Earth
Unbelievable! This is the single most valuable resource I’ve found for describing setting. By switching the map to terrain, and using Street View, you can literally place yourself in the middle of your exotic location without leaving your desk chair. If your budget doesn’t allow travel, then this is your best friend. Like I said, I’ve never been to Scotland, but I have virtually stood in the field where John Mackilligen served communion in 1675. By dropping yourself into your setting, you might notice things that stand out in the landscape or find a building that works its way into your story.
Now that you’ve found out all you can about your location, you do have to get off the web and start writing. Don’t forget to let imagination fill in the gaps!