Today, I’m excited to have Amy Carol Reeves, author of the Ripper trilogy, visit to give advice on navigating the waters of writing historical fiction. Take it away Amy!
While working on the Ripper series, a young adult paranormal mystery series about the Jack the Ripper murders in Victorian London, I learned so much about writing historical fiction. I thought after my many years as a graduate student that the research would be a breeze. After all, I was used to spending much of my time in the dusty bowels of libraries, rare book collections, interlibrary loan departments.
But researching for a novel is much broader and more extensive than researching for a scholarly paper where the scope is always smaller. For instance, rather than researching something very specific, like gender roles in Wuthering Heights, suddenly, I had to find in one sitting, information about carriages, food, pistols, poisons, and hospitals in Victorian London.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned through my experiences:
1. There are so many helpful search engines.
Google Scholar, The Victorian Web, Casebook: Jack the Ripper, are among a few. Through these I found so many helpful links to articles or even original documents about Victorian culture.
2. Connect to other bloggers.
In the writing world, whether you are writing about Tudor Era England, the French Revolution, or the Victorian period as I was, there are other scholars and writers who love your topic as much as you do. Connect with them, visit their blogs. Often, they can even point you in the direction of a new source, like a book, documentary, or even a museum.
3. Know your audience.
Because I wrote Ripper for young adults, I had to find a balance between keeping the language authentic but also interesting and accessible to teenage readers.
4. Don’t overwhelm your readers with history.
Only keep historical detail that is relevant to the story. Although the history geek in me sometimes wants to linger too long upon historical information when I write, I often during my editing phase have to pare down historical details to what is essential. Research should serve mainly to enrich, to give texture to the story that you are writing.
5. Research can often be fun!
Although I have been to London before, while working on the final book in the trilogy, I flew to London to revisit Highgate Cemetery (a major setting in the Ripper series) and Old St. Pancras Church (a setting in Resurrection.) While at the church, I made contact with the church historian, learning some stories about the church’s architecture and history that I had not found in my own research. I convinced a grumpy tour guide at Highgate Cemetery to take me back to the Rossetti family’s plot. (You can read about some stories about my trip on my own blog as well as on my guest blog post for Tabitha Perkins.)
Amy Carol Reeves lives in Columbia, South Carolina where she teaches literature courses at Columbia College and writes young adult novels. When not teaching, writing, or spending time with her family, she likes jogging with her Labrador retriever, Annie, and reading Jane Austen novels. She has published Ripper, (Flux/Llewellyn 2012), Renegade (Flux/Llewellyn 2013). The final book in the Ripper trilogy, Resurrection, will be published by Flux/Llewellyn in 2014. You can check out a post about her recent research trip to London here.
Yup! You guessed it! You can WIN a copy of both Ripper and Renegade. To enter, all you have to do is tell me what your favourite historical era is in the comments below. I’ll be using random.org to choose the winner on June 10, 2013, so check back to see who wins!
I bet I could guess Amy’s fave. And I think Victorian might be my favourite as well. It was the age of technological advances, particularly steam-powered. Then there was the romanticism, the travel, the dresses, the balls, oh my. So what’s yours?