This is a second article on Historical Fiction, but I can’t remember where I got it from! The advice is worth sharing though.
RESEARCH – Think out what you want to say: fact or fictional characters, plot, time, background, era, the society, and the place (even if it’s fictitious).
READ – Old newspapers (found in library archives) for the ‘feel’ of the era . Relevant biographies. Any family diaries or other diaries you can legally lay your hands on.
VISIT – Museums, historical centres, libraries, particularly ones with ‘living history’ e.g. tapes made by people relating momentous events in people’s lives e.g. a twelve -year-old boys first day in the pit, a child brought up in the 1930’s as illegitimate.
WATCH – Films from the period. Any period pieces on television or in the cinema. (If possible, British. The Americans are notoriously inaccurate about facts, costumes etc.)
USE – Ordnance survey maps as close to the period as you can get, if setting your book around an actual place. They can save hours of research. Walk the area, take photographs of buildings that existed at the time, note the gaps – check what was there. If setting your book in a fictitious place draw a map to avoid inaccuracies in the book.
BEG OR BORROW – Song books from the period. If possible, get hold of old records.
RESEARCH – Living conditions e.g. Don’t have people in depression-ridden UK calling out doctors, going down the dole. If writing about the aristocracy read social etiquette books. The working classes – check out contracts, conditions of employment, wages and the exact buying power of those wages. The leisure activities of the social class of your characters through contemporary newspaper advertisements, parish news magazines, contemporary novels etc.
WORK WITH YOUR CHARACTERS until you know their tastes in food, clothes, music, films,sex, etc. and exactly how they will react in any situation.
WARNING – This may take the plot down unexpected roads. Go with it – this is creativity working at its best – with luck it may even improve on your original idea.
SPEAK – to eye witnesses if possible but treat everything they tell you with caution. Some people have accurate recall and perfect memories, others remember what never happened.
DON’T write about an existing organisation without doing your research, especially the army, terrorist, Mafia or government organisations. Publishers and agents always send books with a factual background out to an expert reader. Many well-written, well-plotted, publishable books have bitten the dust over lack of research.
DO put a great deal of effort into fine-tuning your plot. I am not an advocate of plot being all-important over every other criteria including characterisation, in a crime or thriller, but it has to be interesting, sound and totally believable.
DO ultimately have good triumphing over evil, although the good can get severely battered along the way, and evil does not necessarily have to end in death.
DO make your characters believable, that means neither wholly good nor bad, including the heroes/heroines. Don’t forget Jack the Ripper was unexceptionable enough to blend into the East End at the height of the terror and presumably, even serial killers like Dennis Neilson and Myra Hindley had mothers who loved them.
DO make an effort to get your facts right, especially concerning weapons, ammunition, cars, computers etc. If you’re not sure, don’t guess. Consult an expert.
DON’T write about a scenario that is unfamiliar to you, but will be known to others e.g. setting a book in the States when you’ve never been there.
Collate research for reference in files, on pin-board, notebooks, on tape, computer – whatever is easiest for you to work with. Prepare tools and clean writing area – sharpen pencils, sort computer files and open new ones, polish keyboard – if you try really hard you can waste days doing this.
DO MAKE AN EFFORT TO FIND A TITLE THAT GRABS THE IMAGINATION
There are two ways of proceeding:
Block out character sketches, background and plot in detail. Keep research notes at elbow and begin.
Do none of the above – think of a scene that grabs you, sit down and start writing.
Either way you have to think characters into a scene, time and place. What do they hear, see, smell, taste, feel?
TO AVOID WRITER’S BLOCK AND/OR RUNNING OUT OF STEAM
Write in short blocks or chapters – 5 to 10 pages, and try to think no further than the end of the scene while you’re actually writing it. That way you may retain the element of surprise for the reader. Save consideration of the bigger picture for revision.
Try finishing work in the middle not end of a scene. It may give the momentum needed to pick it up later.
If unsure what to do next revise work already completed.
Some writers e.g. Stephen King write in three chapter cycles. When they reach the end of the third they revise all three then proceed to next three chapters.
If your novel seems slow and boring it may be because writing speed is very different from reading speed. The words you are agonising over for hours will be read by the reader in minutes.
There are as many ways of writing as there are writers. None are right or wrong, they either work or they don’t.
FINISH THE BOOK, SET IT ASIDE FOR A FEW DAYS OR WEEKS THEN REVISE! REVISE! REVISE!