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Date Posted: 10:53:18 11/18/09 Wed
Author: Fi
Subject: Anyone else writing a historical novel?

Hi fellow Outlanders,

Has anyone here written historical fiction? I've just started to write mine (set in Ireland and Algeria, 17th century) and I'm wondering how other writers do research?

It seems easy to find out about kings, wars, and politics, but how do I find out about the little details that make up my characters' lives? For example, what did they wear? what did they eat? at what age did the men and women typically marry? how likely is it that my characters would be literate? what were the typical sights and smells in a. an Irish trading town and b. an Algerian slave market? how segregated were men and women in Algiers at the time?

The other question I have, maybe a more complex one, is how do you get into the mindset of someone from another time? I don't want to use a time traveller - it's been done so well already, I don't need the comparison :) Obviously, my characters have attitudes that are not "politically correct" by modern standards. How do I make them of their time, but also sympathetic to modern readers?

Sorry for the rush of questions, and appreciate any advice/encouragement/discouragement/sympathy :)

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[> clarification -- Fi, 10:57:22 11/18/09 Wed

The last message makes it sound like I'm trying to get others to do my research for me! I'm not expecting answers to my questions, just wondering how other writers go about trying to get answers to similar questions.

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[> Not writing one, but enjoy readng them -- Debi, 13:07:51 11/18/09 Wed

My suggestions that may help all over with your questions are finding books about that period in history, and setting and also, reading fiction from those same eras. That might help with the getting into the character's head kind of thing. If you have access to a university library, that would be a fantastic help, or access to teachers of literature and history, they sometimes have anecdotes from their studies that can help.

Full of advice for someone that doesn't write historical fiction, aren't I?;-) If I were though, those would probably be my first steps. I tend to read the heck out of stuff online when I have questions

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[> Hi, Fi! Short for "stereo," right? (Sorry, just had to! *G*) Here's what I do >>>>> -- Page, 14:31:37 11/18/09 Wed

I don't suppose my WIP is actually historical fiction, being set in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I've had to try and find out things from that time period that occurred in a country I've never visited. And for that, I've trolled the internet like a fiend. Don't be afraid to use broad search terms when you Google, and if you find a site where citations are used, find those citations to see if there's more info there. If it were me, I'd Google "Algerian clothing 17th century," "Algerian marriage practices 17th century," etc. and see what pops up. And take it from me, if you find a site you like, be sure to bookmark it! *G* I can't tell you the number of times I've forgotten to do that one basic thing, and then had to spend hours trying to find that site again.

One site I came across might give you a few good hints. It's Writer's Dreamtools: History by Decades.

Also, if you don't have access to a large library, try Google Books. It's amazing what you can find there, even if the books only have a snippet view.

As for the politically correct thing, I would suggest you not worry about that. People were what they were back then, and to change their attitudes or perspectives to avoid offending 21st Century readers wouldn't be true to your story. During one of the first Lallybroch chats with Herself, I was lucky enough to have been chosen to ask her a question, and I asked about the scene in Outlander where Jamie beats Claire. So many people lost their bloomin' minds over that, and I asked Diana if, knowing the reaction it would get, would she change it if she could go back and do it over. And she said, NO. She basically said people just needed to suck it up, and realize that's the way folks behaved in Scotland in the 1750s, and there was no way she'd try to make them something they weren't.

Have fun with your research, and your writing, and keep us updated!


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[> Why yes, one of my works in progress is a historical fiction piece -- Fel, 16:12:45 11/18/09 Wed

Hi Fi,

Actually most of my works are historical fiction in nature. I have one set in World War II Germany in a death camp and I have another one that is a medieval fantasy.

In both of these works I do quite a bit of research online as well as using a lot of books I have at home. I'm getting my BA in medieval studies from a local college so I have tons of medieval book sources ready at hand.

The online research sites I go to are: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbooks.html ; http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/

The first one is medieval based, but the second site there features information from all sorts of time periods.

I try to be as accurate as I can be in my historical writing, but I do not try to infuse twenty-first century notions into my characters. For instance, in my medieval fantasy, I have my main character Alexandra doing all of the typical things a dutchess would do in twelfth century Britain would do, but I also have her becoming a knight and fighting in various wars.

If you make your characters believable, with real emotions and values, then you should have no problem at all. Good luck with your writing!!

I hope I didn't confuse you too much or through too much at you.


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[> hi, Fi -- dea, 10:03:01 11/19/09 Thu

when i come to think of it, most of my writing so far is historical: one in the early 50's in England, the other in 2006, in England, passing by Iraq, Angola, France, with backgrounds that go to the 60's, 70's and 80's. uff!

what i do is read as much as i can about the period, mainly on the internet. i try to make the time setting for my scenes as acurate as possible. for instance, in a background story the father of the main female character works as an engeneer with the Red Cross in Angola in 1964. that's only possible because i made sure that the Red Cross existed, and had engeneers volunteering to build houses and medical facilities and teaching about water treatment in Angola at that time.

on the other hand, i make up a lot! i invent places, houses that don't exist, entire landscapes, rivers, mountains, caves, you name it. unless it's a historical location, i don't have a problem in creating an imaginary site.

i really love research! the interesting things you learn about many things that may not be particularly related to what you're writing, but may be data that will come in handy in the future.

i watch documentaries as well! Discovery Channel, History Channel, National Geographic, great source of information, and a good, reliable one.

one important thing: always keep the internet address, or link, or any reference about the source (author, publisher, date etc). if you're using the information you might face copyright issues when the time comes to publishing and you might need to aknowledge those sources somehow (thank notes, author's notes).

i hope it helps! looking forward to reading some of your things!

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[> [> Re: hi, Fi -- Fi, 10:16:50 11/27/09 Fri

Hi Debi, Page, Fel, and Dea,

Thanks for all your advice and support. That Writer's DreamTools page in particular is brilliant!

I have been googling like crazy, and have bookmarked everything from 17th century clothing, to recipes, to the parts of a sailing ship, to reports of the Ottoman slave trade. I found that Google Images is very useful; seeing pictures of people from the era helps me to visualize my characters better, and old maps are also useful for picturing the action.

With regard to the "political correctness", I'm worried about two potential problems: (a) my own 21st century sensibilities will make my 17th century characters unrealistic or (b) I'll make them so of their time that no modern reader will relate. But I guess I'll concentrate on the story first and see how that pans out.

Now I need to balance the research by doing some actual writing! At the moment my writing is filled with notes like "she wore a her hair in a [hairstyle]", "he unbuttoned his breeches [did they have buttons?], "the table was laid with [typical supper food]". I may post later when I have something more to show.

- Fiona

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