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Writing Historical Novels, Part 2

By Carrie Turansky

On Sept. 5th I shared several tips on research for historical authors. Today I’d like to continue with that topic and give you a few more ideas. All of these have been very helpful to me as I have been writing The Edwardian Brides Series, and today I am celebrating the release of Book One, The Governess of Highland Hall.

Watch Movies and Television Program From Your Time PeriodGoverness of Highland Hall
There are scores of documentaries on nearly every subject you can imagine. Just like books, when it comes to video artifacts there are primary sources and secondary sources. A documentary is a secondary source while a movie or radio/TV broadcast from the time period is a primary source. Try listening to the radio broadcast of the explosion of the Hindenburg and then read an article about it. You’ll see that there’s nothing quite as dramatic as listening to the broadcaster as he tries to describe the tragedy happening right before his eyes. Be aware that modern movies set in historical time periods may or may not portray it accurately. Double-check your facts!

Catalogs
If your story takes place after catalogs were in use, get hold of reprints of old catalogs. I have an 1895 Montgomery Ward Catalog that has descriptions of, and prices for, almost every personal item used by people of that time: hardware, books, stationery, toys, guns, toiletries, wallpaper, stoves, laundry equipment, harnesses and saddlery, and the list goes on and on.

Google Image Search and Pinterest
Google Image search is a wonderful resource for authors! I used it to find Tyntesfield, the beautiful estate that is the setting for The Governess of Highland Hall. Then I created a Pinterst board and pinned articles, images, and videos there for my own reference and to share with readers. Pinterest is an excellent source for images of clothing, characters, inventions, and just about anything. Photographs can also be a great primary source. Mathew Brady’s photographs provide some of the most vivid documents of the Civil War.

Listen to Old Music
Music is great way to understand the past. Try tracking down music from your time period and listen to it online. The lyrics can also be a wonderful way to absorb the atmosphere of the time period. I was able to include lyrics from a love song in The Governess of Highland Hall, because it was published early enough that the rights were available.

Prepare Food from your Time Period
I often include descriptions of food in my novels, so understanding the unique dishes made during the time period is important to me, and I believe it adds authenticity to my novels. When I was researching my current series I ordered a copy of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, which was published in England around 1860, but was still in use in Edwardian Times. It not only gave me some fun recipes to try, but it explained how the mistress of the house worked with her servants, dinned a special, raised her children, and much more.

Live One Day in the Past
Turn off your cell phone, shut down your computer, unplug the TV, and try to live one day as your characters would have in the past. If you are writing about a time before the invention of the automobile, try walking or riding your bike to all the places you’d need to go like the supermarket, doctor’s office, school, etc. If you are writing about a time before electricity, live by candlelight. You will be surprised by what you learn. You might also enjoy attending a reenactment or a living history museum to experience life in the past.

Carrie Turansky SeptCarrie Turansky is the award-winning author of eleven novels and novellas, including Snowflake Sweetheart, Surrendered Hearts, and Along Came Love. She has won the ACFW Carol Award, the Crystal Globe Award, and the International Digital Award. She lives in central New Jersey with her husband, Scott, who is a pastor, counselor and the author of several parenting books. They have five adult children and three grandchildren.
More writing tips and info on The Governess of Highland Hall and the Edwardian Brides Series on Carrie’s website at http://carrieturansky.com
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One Response to Writing Historical Novels, Part 2

  1. Great blog, Carrie! I love the advice about shutting off all technology for a day. That’s helpful for other writing, too! :o )