Monday, 16 January 2012

Primary Sources for Historical Research

Research is quite an overwhelming concept for some historical writers if covering a period with huge amounts of information. How can we possibly hope to know enough before starting the novel? One piece of advice I’ll offer is to choose a background period with which you’re already familiar. Then start writing the story and fill in the gaps in historical background as and when needed. This avoids spending too much time researching before getting started writing, and also avoids using every bit of information you can find!
We all bring our own cultural influences and knowledge to the past and can never fully understand what it was like to live then. So the next best option is to read about it from a historical person. One of the best kinds of research is Primary Sources, material written around the time of your novel, if not too far back in history. Good sources include books (fiction and non-fiction), diaries, newspapers, maps, paintings, drawings, guides and letters.
Next time, I’ll look at one of these examples in more detail.


Carolb said...

Personally I find diaries and newspapers of the time a great source for story ideas as well as the sound of dialogue, and how people of the time thought.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Carol. Yes - if it's not too far back in time, newspapers are great for adverts etc.

Adriana Ryan said...

Very neat. I often wonder how historical fiction writers get their details. The one time I tried to Google information for a story (it wasn't a historical, but I needed accurate information for a plot point), I was utterly lost. I couldn't figure out which resources were trustworthy and which weren't. Looking forward to reading more! :)


Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Adriana - thanks for commenting and following! Research is so time-consuming, so it helps to find the best resources.

Linda Kage said...

That's a great idea, Romy. Thank you. I've always been too intimidated to write a historical story because I knew I'd never get it completely, though I simply love to read them.

Your research technique doesn't sound so very intimidating though.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Linda - I think it's so easy to feel intimidated about writing historicals. It helps that I studied several eras in my degree, but there's only so much we can remember!