Fiction readers want the story … but writers also need to get those facts correct. Nothing will spoil a historical novel, or a historical romance novel, faster than getting the history wrong. As a writer, you might slip shoddy history past three-quarters of your readers, but that other twenty-five percent is going to toast you on Amazon’s reviews.
So how do you get the facts straight? Research. It’s never been easier. Search engines bring the world – past and present – to our fingertips. But here’s a word of caution. Don’t use anything from a Wiki site without fact-checking it. That source may not be reliable.
Any of the search engines are good, but you have to put the right search clues in to bring up what you need. If you’re writing about a doctor during the Civil War, don’t just type in “Civil War.” You’ll spend days sorting through your hits. Even “Civil War Medicine” will bring up more than you need. For instance, you have a doctor who needs to perform an amputation, so give the search engine those specifics, “Civil War Amputation.” That will bring up the tools, the techniques, and the predictable outcomes.
For a less gruesome example, let’s think about something more mundane. Let’s say you’re writing a colonial story and your hero/heroine are staunch patriots. Then you set them down for a nice cup of tea. Oh! Let’s take a look at the facts. I Googled “Revolutionary War Patriots and Tea” to see what I could learn. Here’s what I found: In response to British taxes on tea, women who sided with the Patriot cause boycotted tea. So what did they drink? Back to Google with “Revolutionary War Patriots Tea Replacement” and I learned that there were many herbal alternatives.
Research takes time, but if it saves you even a couple of bad reviews, isn’t it worth it? And narrowing your search to specifics will speed things up. If you don’t get what you need on the first search, you can broaden it out some, or change your search clues.
The facts, ma’am – to round out the story!
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