I was chatting on a forum the other day, and the conversation sparked the idea for this blog post. When writing your novel, what is the best way to incorporate research and historical details into your writing? I’m not sure there is a best practice for doing this; everyone most likely has a method that works best for him or her. Some like to do a lot of research and planning up front, while others choose to research as they are writing their novel. I can only share what my experience has been and what works best for me.
When I began the first draft of my novel, I had a basic knowledge of the medieval period, and I had an idea for a story, and so I just started writing. As I was writing, I went to the library and collected books and read as much as I could about the time and location in medieval history I wanted to cover. I focused on Medieval England and France, around the turn of the 13th century. By the time I finished the first draft, I had learned so much more, and I realized I had a lot of errors, and for the second draft, I spent time correcting these errors with the new knowledge I had gained. But I never stopped researching. Throughout the second draft, I was constantly reading new books, and even after I finished the second draft, there were still new things I had learned that I wanted to incorporate in the third draft.
I’m currently on the fourth draft of my novel, and there are still things about the Middle Ages I’m learning. Just yesterday, I was talking with a knowledgable historical fiction author, and she informed me that the term “chain mail” was actually a term created in the Victorian era and was not used by people in the Middle Ages. Simply the term “mail” would be more accurate. Now, I have to be more conscious of this in my writing, and for the fourth draft correct any misuses of this term. As many medieval historical sources I have read, I have never noticed the distinction between “chain mail” or “mail” before. Either the sources referred to it as both “chain mail” and “mail” interchangeably, or they failed to mention “chain mail” was a term conceived after the medieval period.
The important thing is to never stop learning; you can never know enough about a certain period of history, and there are many areas left open for interpretation and debate that the writer will have to make certain choices about in his or her novel.