Saturday, July 14, 2012


Well, my dear readers, this is the surprise.  Miss Amy Dashwood has graciously agreed to make a stop at my blog on her blog tour to promote her new book Only A Novel.  I only 'met' Miss Dashwood a couple months ago but I have enjoyed becoming acquainted with her.  To my delight she agreed to write a post on one of my favorite subjects, historical research.

Hello everyone! Miss Melody Muffin has kindly invited me to guest post on her blog today as part of my blog tour, and I’m thrilled to be here!

In June, I finished writing a my first full-length work of fiction, entitled Only a Novel.  Only a Novel takes place during 1881-1882, which qualifies it as historical fiction.  (In the words of Mr. Palmer in Sense and Sensibility, “Thank you, my dear, I think we had all apprehended that much.”)  Obviously, writing historical fiction requires some amount of research, and that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

When you write a historical novel, your first step is to choose the time period in which your story will take place.  This is often the easiest and most obvious step (if you want to write about WWII, your best bet is to set your story during WWII), but for me it was a little more difficult.  I knew that I wanted to write a story about a girl who became a governess after losing her fortune, and I knew that I wanted this girl (Elizabeth Markette, by the way) to be a rather fanatic fan of Jane Austen.  So, obviously, her story had to take place sometime after the Regency era in order for her to have access to Jane Austen’s novels.   The latter half of the 19th century interests me more than the first half (especially because I like the clothes better) and so I did a little research on the Internet about the 1870’s and 1880’s. 

To my delight, I discovered that there had been an economic depression in Europe in the 1870’s, following the Panic of ’73 in which many stockholders’ fortunes were lost.  Bingo! I knew Elizabeth had to have some reason for losing all her inheritance (the excuse, “well, her grandparents spent it all on bubble gum” seemed a little weak) and the Panic of ’73 fit perfectly into my story.

Now that I had historical context for my novel, I had to make sure that I didn’t write anything that would be anachronistic.  I have a pretty good working knowledge of the fashions of the 1880’s, but I still found it helpful to check (invaluable! Highly recommend!) for details.  And believe me, I checked often.

To anyone who’s planning on writing historical fiction, let me give you a little hint: it’s really, really good for your ego.  No matter how much you think you may know, you’ll find yourself constantly realizing that you don’t know as much as you thought you knew, and you’ll be looking things up all. the. time.  In one of the very first scenes in my book, I introduced a lawyer whom the heroine mentally compared to a rubber band.  Writing the scene gave me a great many giggles, and when I’d finished, I realized with some horror that I might have to change it.  Were there such things as rubber bands in the 1880’s?  That was when Wikipedia came in handy.  :D Oh, and rubber bands were indeed around in 1881, in case you were wondering. 

Another thing to keep tabs on is the way your characters speak.  (Technically that’s a grammatically correct sentence, but it still looks… odd.  Hmmm.  Anyways.)  There is nothing that makes me cringe more than a book set in the 18th century involving characters who shoot “okay” back and forth at each other.  Puh-leese, puh-LEESE don’t do that (and don’t let your characters say “puh-leese” either, unless they’re at least slightly more contemporary!).   A good way to get acquainted with the lingo of thine era (heh, heh) is to read as many contemporary-to-your-chosen-era books as you can get your hands on.  There’s no better way to become familiar with the way people would have talked than to actually, you know, read the way they would have talked.  :D

In fact, that’s really the best advice I can give you.  Read, read, read.  Read books, read websites, read more books.  Find out all you can about the era you plan to write about—immerse yourself in it, so to speak—and then, hopefully, everything will come together and a completed novel will fall into your lap.

Kidding.  Kidding.  It’s not that easy.  There are these things called blood and sweat and tears, but believe me, it is totally worth it in the end.

Er, that is, I mean to say that it may be a difficult path to follow, but you will feel a great sense of satisfaction when you have accomplished the goal after which you strive. 

"Miss Amy Dashwood is a daughter of the King of Kings, a homeschooled seventeen-year-old and a lover of books, period dramas, chocolate, long bike rides, babies, teacups, historical costumes and fiddle music.  Only a Novel, her first full-length work of fiction, chronicles a year in the life of Elizabeth Markette, a young woman with a head full of books who takes on a job as a governess after the death of her grandmother.  Only a Novel is available for purchase on Amazon, and you can find Amy at either of her two blogs, Yet Another Period Drama Blog and The Quest for Stories."

Thank you for this fantastic post, Amy!

Miss Melody Muffin


  1. Ah, Miss Amy Dashwood is an inspiration to all writers in training! And yes, I, too, know the importance of researching while working on historical fiction. Somehow trying to throw a short, sixteen year old girl into a man's disguise to fight at Gettysburg didn't turn out too well. :)

    I enjoyed reading this! Thanks for being a part of Amy's blog tour, Miss Melody Muffin!

  2. Loved this post! These are all great tips, and I already try to follow most of them, especially the one about writing in the style of the time period that your story is set in. Speaking of which, the expression OK originated with Andrew Jackson, and was in use in the United States in the mid-1800s. So it's OK to use it if you are writing a mid-1800s story set in the United States! :)


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