Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Historical research

Here’s a good post at Writer UnBoxed: Historical Novels—Your Research To-Do List.

I believe this post caught my eye because a commenter here recently mentioned how annoyed she gets when characters in historical novels have anachronistic names.

This post is about a lot more than that, though it *is* a bit amusing to think of a Regency with a protagonist named, say, Brittney.

I particularly like this suggestion:

Read historical fiction…carefully. An obvious instinct is, “How did other authors do this?” But remember, novelists don’t always get things right. Excellently researched novels are a complement to your research, not a substitution. They are fiction, after all. Unless…

Read novels that were once contemporary. My setting was 1918. So I read and reread Fitzgerald, Hemingway and others who lived then and wrote novels that were contemporary at the time.

This strikes me as perfect advice. I like nonfiction, but I read a lot more fiction and I definitely draw on, say Gillian Bradshaw, for descriptions of architecture. Not for historical settings, of course, but Bradshaw is a great resource for fantasy settings as well. I’d be inclined toward historical novels if I were writing one — and the suggestion to let some of those be contemporary-at-the-time novels is definitely one I would follow.

Right at the moment, a WIP that I’m making some actual progress on is sort of historical. It’s a (very) alternate Regency-ish setting. So I am indeed drawing on Regency novels for setting details, but at the same time I don’t have to get everything right because as I say, (very) alternate. Strongly Regency flavored, shall we say, rather than an actual Regency setting as such.

Still, these suggestions remain good ones. Also, I trust I will avoid naming anybody anything too modern! Not too much a concern because most characters have somewhat odd names anyway, even by the standards of their own society.

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4 Comments Historical research

  1. Elaine T

    Anachronistic slang, too, is an issue – If I happen to notice it, of course. I still remember a Regency heroine using ‘maverick’ about the love interest. No. Just… No. Even if it fits.

    Sometimes the author can pull it off, I’ll take Dunnett characters using anachronist modern terms, not to mention literary references, but she writes them so I believe if the info had existed the characters would have used it, so the anachronism hits my brain as a translation of a [period term ] and it works.

    I look forward to seeing you play in a sort-of-Regency setting.

  2. Rachel

    Sure. I’m casually reading a nonfiction book about the Regency period as well. But fiction does better than nonfiction to provide the “feel” and “flavor” of an era, imo.

  3. Pete Mack

    Coincidentally, another blog I often read has a post on a related topic: fantasy cartography. Should fantasy use world maps that make geographic sense (notably, mountains and rivers that follow accepted rules of geology), or should they be more like a pre-modern map, if it’s a fantasy based on pre-modern myth (a la Tolkien.) It has some excellent links, including to an amusing review of a Rothfuss book.
    http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/10/tolkiens-map

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