Writing a Historical Fiction Novel ~ Research Tips

Writing a Historical Fiction Novel ~ Research Tips

Sad fact: I’ve always struggled to plan stories. From the time that I was writing short stories about my pets as a kid, I’ve struggled to plan ahead; if I have an awesome story idea, I want to go ahead and start writing, regardless of whether the story has any structure, or not.

Most of the stories that I’ve written go absolutely nowhere; I’ve had to quit writing them because any potential reader wouldn’t know what was going on, nor did I at those points! 😂

It was alright when I was a kid, but with all of my experience as a writer now … it’s probably a good time to start figuring out the best way for me to plan stories.

~

For a while now (at least a year, or so), I’ve been planning – a lot. I’ve been researching and studying and reading and writing – okay, those are all basically the same thing. lol Either way, I have been working because I want to write a historical fiction novel based in the Middle Ages – and I can’t do that without a whole lot of research.

Related Post: Writing a Historical Fiction Novel ~ Staying Inspired

In part one of this series, I’m going to share with you four things that I’ve learned on this journey of story research. I hope that it can encourage you if you’re planning a novel, or if you’re interested in ever doing it. 😊

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{Research Tips}

1. Keep all the facts in one place. I’ve been tempted to digitize everything or to upgrade to a pretty binder, but it has been so nice to have everything in just one notebook! Nothing gets lost, I didn’t have to spend extra money on something prettier … 👍🏼

2. Write out a table of contents. I’m currently working on one so that when I’m writing the story one day, I’ll be able to find different topics that I’ve written about. Even though I’ve written everything down, I won’t be able to remember all of it, which is why it’s so important for me to have a table of contents. For now, they’re just a note on my phone, as it isn’t quite done …

3. Find your favorite type of resource, then work with it. For me personally, I like finding the information I need through library books. I also have a folder on my phone that has links to articles on topics that I want/need to learn about, things I might not find in books. Other people might enjoy videos or online research more; it’s just a thing of preference.

4. Unless you’re on a timed schedule, only work when you feel motivated. This project is just for me, and I’m not doing it for any writing challenge, so I don’t have a deadline or a goal to reach. I research when I feel inspired and only then; it takes a lot of work! If I tried to push it and study every week, I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much.

For example, I’m really focusing on learning about medieval gardening for the time being, and even though I like what I’m finding out about it, I’ve had to go through a lot of dry books and boring online articles to find what I’m really looking for. It’s crazy how deep I have to study just to find the facts!

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What’s YOUR best studying tip?

Thanks for reading! Have a great evening/night. 💕

— Maggie

34 thoughts on “Writing a Historical Fiction Novel ~ Research Tips

    1. I hope that goes well for you! Just take it a step at a time; don’t pressure yourself to research more than you are inspired to. I’ve learned that that only creates stress. Best of luck! ❤

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  1. You are definitely working hard, wow! I’ve read before (via Writer’s Digest magazine, which is fantastic – get it if you don’t already, or read it at your library) that writers can get overwhelmed by the research and usually end up doing too much to inform the story, but I think the research is half the fun, don’t you? As long as you enjoy the learning and you’re not writing for a deadline, enjoy it!

    I’ve always used a notebook before … with zero organization, to my detriment! I will try to do better with my next project. I just started a trial of Scrivener, which other writers SWEAR by for the help it gives for organization. We’ll see; I like to write notes on paper, but the ability to cut/paste is good. Check it out!

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    1. Yes, researching is definitely half the fun – maybe more! Because then I have all the necessary information to accurately write about a time period and still be able to tweak things here and there, depending on how I want the story to go. I’ll have to see if my local library has Writer’s Digest, and I’ve never even heard of Scrivener – I’ll have to look into it! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  2. Those are some really great tips! I like the idea of a notebook. I’m working on a historical fiction set around Pearl Harbor, but I don’t have a laptop. So every time I go to the library, I have to somehow remember everything (lots of notes on random peices​ of paper) so I can put it in my computer when I get home. Lol. It sounds like it would be easier just to stick everything in a notebook instead!

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    1. Thank you so much! (Sorry I forgot to reply.) Glad the tips could help you 🙂 Yes, having a notebook (or even a binder!) is such a nice way to stay organized. Best of luck on your novel!

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      1. Lol, I know what you mean about it seeming to take a while!! I’ve been working on it for… a year and a half now? Not consistently, as I’ve been doodling around in other stories as well. Although honestly I’ve had it in my head for about six months before I started to actually work on it. 😛

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      2. Same here! I haven’t been working on mine straight for nearly two years lol, but it almost feels like it, as I’ve been researching on and off for about that long now.

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      3. haha, cool! It sounds like it could be interesting. and there aren’t many books made about the peasantry in the dark ages so I think that would be interesting (and hard to research for lol).

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      4. Yeah, there are very few fictional books about them, and there are also very few resources, hahah! There are lots of different articles online that have been helpful, though! What are you using to research for your book? (Books, articles, etc)

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      5. I’m doing mostly online articles, basically because that’s mostly what I can find. The majority of the story is during the Depression and I’m having a great deal of difficulty finding anything that shows what it was like living on a farm during that time. Most of the books are romanticized hobo stories and even those are fiction so I don’t want to take the way they portray America then as fact. *sighs* so confusing.

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      6. That’s unfortunate that there aren’t more resources available for your story. For my research, some subjects have more available information than others. With some things, I’ll have to use some creativity and imagination, I suppose. Yeah, I’m in the same place; there are very few fictional books based in towns and villages in the Middle Ages.

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      7. By the way, I tried to go to your blog, but your profile link didn’t work. Do you have a blog you’re currently posting on? I’d love to go to it 🙂

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  3. Great points! My best friend is One Note, where I can cut/paste/drag/drop anything I come across related to my novels, creating virtual binders for easy access. Therefore, when scouring online libraries about growing sugar cane, for instance, if I find a picture, or a link, or a paragraph that’s relevant, I clip it, paste it, then it’s always there to come back to as I write.

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  4. Good stuff!!! My historical novel is based in 1850’s New Orleans, antebellum Louisiana. One of my best writing friends is One Note, and is the location of all of my virtual research notes/images/ideas and anything else I can use in historical research. When scouring the online libraries, it’s quick and easy to clip whatever section I need, then paste it into the appropriate folder. Whether it’s a link, a paragraph, photo, entire book… it works beautifully. Saved to the cloud, I have it available wherever I go, across all of my devices.

    My challenge, is I enjoy research too much. I can get so caught up in reading about an event from that time period, that my writing time fades away. Still, it’s so much fun. Good luck with your novel!!! And thanks for liking my blog. Cheers

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    1. Hahaha, I’ve been guilty of that! The research is just as fun (if not more so) than the writing/planning itself. Some of the things I’ve learned I certainly won’t use it my novel, but it’s still enjoyable to read all about the stuff. Thanks! You’re very welcome, thanks for coming by mine. Hope you have a great evening!

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  5. I have been wanting to write a particular story since I was 13. I’ve attempted like four different versions in the past, and they all went no where. I started writing poetry when I was 13 as well, so for a decade I felt like poetry was only what I would be able to write for God. But God has other plans. In fact, the idea for my story started when i was four, when I gave my life to Christ. And it was an imaginative world/story I developed as I grew as a child. But it wasn’t till my last year in college that God was finally telling me, “Now is the time to write that story.” I had to hit some really low points before I got close to feeling like it was something I was ready for. And that’s part of it too, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to write a Christian Fantasy series because there really isn’t much out there for Christian readers, and above all else I wanted to write it for God. That decision was in 2013 January. I started writing my first novel (preparing for the series) in August 2013, and I completed my first novel on October 31st, 2014. Over a hundred single spaced pages, over 40k word count.

    Which brings me to my advice I’m going to give you. I was under the false idea when I started to focus on being inspired to write. And because of this idea It took over a year to writer a novel, sometimes I would go week/months between writing, doing any ideas for the story, or preparing my series foundation. If this is something you really want to do, learn to make some time, or at least some creative brainstorming 🙂 I only had 30 pages in July 2014. But I was inspired by my friends, and the fact this was something I wanted to give God. So I worked on pushing myself, and my writing. And it took a little over three months for me to finish writing a novel. A novel I used to think I could not have been able to write. That’s the grace of God.

    Last month I finished completing my third novel in preparation for the series, and now am starting to work on my first book. Next month I will be going into my fourth year of preparing and writing. I’m pleased to say within that time frame, a lot has improved, including my experience as a novelist. I wanted to be prepared before I started my first book, and I now am.

    I apologize about the length of this comment. I just want to encourage you not to give up. Even when discouraged. If you’re curious about writing, or more of my experience, my second blog is called Peeking Beneath The Rock. If this is in God’s plan, the impossible can be accomplished. And you’re already walking on the right path. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing. Story writing (especially series!!) is a long, long process – and sometimes that aggravates me. Over the years that I’ve been writing (I’ve been writing since I was 8), I’ve learned to plan, take the time for ideas to grow, and to find inspiration around me. I tried to rush the writing process before, which was never a good idea lol. Learning to slow down and carefully plan has been the best thing for me. The story I’m working on has consisted of nearly two years of character creating, historic research, and plot development – we’ll see how that turns out!

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