Historical fiction allows stories from the past to be retold and characters that would otherwise be forgotten, brought back to life. It is a rewarding genre to write, but one that requires thorough research in order to accurately recreate details from an era long forgotten.
I am currently working on a historical fiction story set in Sydney in the 1870s. It is set around people I found while researching my family history, particularly an event that has now become an obsession of mine. The story has captivated and frustrated me, infatuated and infuriated me, but I have finally gained momentum and hope to finish the first draft soon.
I have become quite conscious of the time period in which my story is set, and the finer details of life in Sydney for that generation. Not being able to visit these places or observing life at that time, I am reliant on other resources to fill in the gaps. A lack of adequate research may mean you misconstrue their experiences or miss smaller details, which can detract from the story.
So where do you start with your research? In the digital age there are plenty of resources at your fingertips but here are a few that I have found the most useful:
• Ancestry.com: As my story is based on information I’ve stumbled across in my family history, here I found useful records from Police gazettes, newspapers, births, marriages and deaths. If you’re lucky, there may be stories that others have written about your ancestors.
• Pinterest: Set up a board to pin pictures you’ve found from around the web – there are plenty of historical websites that are embracing Pinterest to post their image libraries.
• Youtube: There is likely to be a clip or documentary to be found on the era that your story is set. There are a number of remastered clips from the early 1900s, with some simply depicting people living their day to day lives.
• Trove: The National Library of Australia’s Trove website is fantastic resource, as there are plenty of photos from different times to observe how people dressed, what their houses and communities looked like, and what activities they participated in. Trove has an extensive collection of newspaper articles, journals, sound files, diaries, letters and maps. There should be a local history society website for your area or the location where your story is set.
• Historians: There are also valuable resources that you access by stepping away from your computer. I intend to visit a number of historical sites to gain an appreciation for the houses, daily life and issues people in that era would have faced. Museums, historical societies and family history organisations are great places to start, with passionate people volunteering their time and knowledge.
With adequate research, your fiction should avoid stumbling on details vital to your story. I believe that the best historical fiction is focused the feelings and reactions of the characters, and the resolutions they have to make. With resources such as these, you’ll have the historic details necessary to help bring your stories to life.
Copyright Carrie Wilson 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using this work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Carrie Wilson is the attributed Author.
The images on this post are Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without Cate’s prior, written consent.