How to Research Historicals, part 2

Consider enlisting a research assistant.

For my Tudor novels I engaged a woman pursuing her Ph.D. in historical studies, which gave her access to a large base of information. Plus, she was familiar with the era in which I was writing.

A source document can’t tell you if a plot twist is appropriate for the era, nor can it challenge your errors in titles, styles, language, or clothing. A qualified assistant can field odd questions and has invariably read more in the period than you have. This helps you correct assumptions and avoid duplicating approaches other writers have taken.

Find a research assistant by contacting a local university, examining forums or Facebook common interest groups, or asking friends.

For my current series, I’ve engaged a couple who live in the area in England about which I am writing. They’ll certainly let me know if I have my facts wrong or sound too American.

Be there — in reality and virtually.

Visit your locale to pick up lore and sensory information for describing your settings. Take photos of tombstones for character names that fit.

Whether or not you can get to your locale, search for photos to help you envision your characters’ lives. One great source is, a compilation of photos by high-quality, amateur photographers. I also used Pictures of England. I contacted some of the photographers for permission to use their work for the Castles and Palaces page on my website, and they readily agreed. The photos are stunning, and they were free.

Your task is to transport your reader to a specific time and place. Include enough detail to whisk them away, and they’ll return for Book 2.

Bestselling author and Guild Craftsman mentor Sandra Byrd has published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. Library Journal named To Die For a Best Books Pick for 2011 and The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr a Best Books Pick for 2012. Her most recent novel is Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I.

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