5 Tools To Use When Writing A Historical Novel

5 Tools To Use When Writing A Historical Novel

In this post, we look at five tools to use when writing a historical novel.

Lovers of historical fiction have a short fuse when it comes to historical inaccuracy in books they read. These readers LOVE history. Ensuring your novel is as historically accurate as possible adds wonderful layers to your story. If something doesn’t feel right, they will research it. They are also the kind of readers that will read the author’s note at the back of the book, and the bibliography, if there is one.

So, if you are going to write a historical novel, you had better be a lover of research.

What qualifies a book as ‘historical’?

Say the words ‘historical novel’ and most people will picture a cover adorned with well-built, semi-naked Scot or Viking, a British nobleman or woman of the Regency, Georgian, or Victorian era.

But even books set in the near past may be considered historical. In fact, your story must be set a minimum of 50 years in the past to be considered historical. The 50-year cut-off is why so many historical family sagas end at the start or just after World War II. Bizarre as it may seem, today this means that a novel set in 1972 would be a historical novel.

5 Tools You May Find Useful When Writing A Historical Novel

  1. You Tube Videos

If you can keep yourself from falling into the cat video trap, You Tube videos can an incredible free source of information. But do be careful – try to find experts rather than clicking on any old video. Here are two that I find extremely helpful whether it’s how to wear a kilt and what medieval  peasants ate.

  1. JSTOR

Founded in 1995, this New York based digital library has digitized back issues of academic journals, books and other primary sources, current journals in the humanities and social sciences. Over 8000 institutions across the globe use JSTOR as a source for reliable information. It might sound dull but wait until you open the link! JSTOR is a rabbit hole just waiting for you to discover it.

  1. Online Etymology Dictionary

This has to be one of my favourite sites! Nothing pulls a reader out of your book quicker than putting words in the mouths of your character that were only invented or used five hundred years later!

  1. Second-Hand Book Stores

If you keep your eyes open in second-hand bookstores and at markets you may be able to pick up some real treasures! Be brave. Look for old handwritten diaries, household accounts etc.

  1. Facebook Groups

There are many Facebook groups for people interested in books or information about particular eras. Join them. The others on the group are usually generous with their found information and even provide links, and pictures.

3 Tools To Avoid (Especially For Costume Details)

  • The Movies Or TV Series. With the budgets period films have you should be able to think of them as the historical costume bible, right? No. And a 1000 times no. Just by watching a clip from the movie showing fully clad ladies, a historical costume expert can tell if they are wearing a corset, what kind of corset it is, and what kind of corset it should be. Having said that, you could probably use a period film or series made by the BBC as accurate. But check anyway. And let’s not talk about the almost total historical inaccuracy of Braveheart!
  • The Costume Section Of Pattern Books. Absolutely not. They’re fine for a costume party but can be in no way taken as gospel for correct period costuming.
  • Other Historical Romance Book Covers. No! Especially if the cover is created from an image bank library. If you are traditionally published, you may have no say in your cover. If you are self-published, striving for historical accuracy in your cover models’ clothing could be expensive but so worth it.

The Last Word

I hope this post will help you if you are writing a historical novel. Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

More Posts From Elaine

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Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

Posted on: 27th October 2022
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