Tumblr Ask #1: Balancing the Research and Story Processes

👋😄 I saw that you write historical fiction! I have a historical fiction book I’m planning atm and I’m not sure how to balance research and story. Any tips on that? ✒

Hyba Ouazzani

That’s a good question!

I think that the most important time to do the most research is at the beginning. When I have a very general idea of the time period and setting that I will be implementing, I research a bird’s eye view. Even if you feel like you know the period very well, it can help to review the major events of a century. Plus, doing this fosters more inspiration. If you find a specific event that sparks your interest, then you can look into it even deeper and include it as an important facet of your story.

For example, I was very interested in the 1618 Defenestration of Prague. My excitement about the topic led me to incorporate it in Atrocious Immoralities as a significant plot point.

You can also research specific historical figures, and include them as characters in your story. Using historical figures as characters is a good tool for emphasizing the fiction in historical fiction. Events are harder to tweak in a compelling way in a story, but characters can be manipulated much more.

Aside from the initial research and gathering events and figures that you are inclined towards, the next most important role that research serves is fact-checking along the way. Often while writing, I will find myself asking absurdly specific questions to Google. These are moments like “Did [thing] exist in [year]?” This is a crucial, less exciting element of making sure your story is grounded in reality. I’m sure you can relate to these silly Google searches.

If you’re feeling like most of your time is dedicated to one or the other, I would suggest thinking of it more as blending the two. After you research something, ask yourself some narrative questions, like:

  • How could this impact my protagonist?
  • What sort of societal consequences did this event/person have at large?

Asking these questions will help you to create a cohesive historical fiction narrative, no matter what direction you take it.

I also talked about this topic pretty broadly on my blog. Good luck!

Historical fiction apart from suffering

If there’s a special, weird interest you have in positively anything, that affinity shines in your writing.

My first full-length novel was historical fiction.

Gasps from all around. The audience collectively shivers. One person dares to boo.
Writing historical fiction is simply not as insufferable as many people may think. It may take an acquired taste for research, but you never know until you’ve tried it. And if you enjoy reading it, you can absolutely write it.

Writing my first book, I had two companions by my side: Google and one (1) Renaissance history book (Christendom Destroyed by Mark Greengrass). I accumulated many bookmarked tabs with information regarding dialect, textiles, and torture devices. I annotated the book because tend to think that a highlighted, well-read book is just prettier.

Certain documents stood out to me more and became really exciting discoveries. I began to realize that I might just really love research. I love diving down a rabbit hole and entering a world of metallic crystals for a science paper or finding out about legal loopholes in the 17th century. This is an excellent trait to have in general but it makes historical fiction a joy to write.

If there’s a special, weird interest you have in positively anything, that affinity shines in your writing. Think of J.R.R. Tolkien; his interest in linguistics meant that he was drawn to create his own language for The Lord of the Rings, and the parts written in Elvish are gems in the books.

This is because it’s simply fun to live vicariously amongst someone’s interests. When your best friend tells you about their favorite song and why they love it so much, their words exude passion. And it feels great to be the one telling someone about your favorite things, too, because it’s a very intimate way of communicating. The listener is showing that they care about the speaker’s passions, which immediately connects the two with knowing this.

For example, if your favorite song has deeply emotional lyrics, by telling someone else that you love it you’re expressing your relatability to the piece of music. This instantly places you in a position of vulnerability that reveals what you connect to and makes the other individual wonder what experiences you must have had in your life to connect to that music so much.

By writing, you are putting that vulnerability on paper. You are unintentionally writing your wounds into every word. And when you know so much about something or simply can’t help but be interested in Greek mythology, your readers will thank you for including it.

We write best from what we love and feel.

You’ll find that when you use these resources that are lying around in your writer’s toolbox, they will come together effortlessly to elevate the story into something bigger and better.