The Importance of Research
Writers have it easy these days. Needed facts and figures involve just a few strokes of the keyboard and you have everything you need instantaneously. The wonders of the World Wide Web, Google and Wikipedia. Prior to personal computers, research involved trips to libraries, ploughing through shelves to locate books and journals, photocopying and the dreaded searches through microfiche files. (Microfiche—first invented in 1839 by John Benjamin Dancer.) Research was a tedious process and although I sometimes hate my computer, access to facts, figures, photos and original documents makes writing a breeze.
I enjoy research, and as a writer of historical novels, I spend as much time on research as I do on actual writing. My preferred search engine remains open as I write a scene of my novel. Flipping between research and prose is second nature, as I am always coming up with questions. How long would a journey between Mayfair, London and Ash in Surry take in a carriage and four horses? (Can be done in a day if the weather is good but more comfortable over two days with an overnight stop at Cobham.)
When plotting, I also do considerable research. With my latest novel, I am writing about the Abolition of Slavery in Britain from 1829 to 1833. I have read and noted three PhD. Dissertations and purchased four academic books. I read and study these before commencing plotting the novel. Historical timelines are important to the motivations and actions of my characters. In addition to historical research, it is essential to know the world your characters inhabit. My library contains books that cover politics, housing, etiquette, clothing and transport. I also read novels and essays from original sources.
If possible, visit the locations in which you place your novel. I had a wonderful day exploring Mayfair in London and then another two days at the Victoria and Albert Museum. If you can’t get to a place, explore online and where conceivable use original maps and photos of historic buildings and gardens.
How much research is needed? The iceberg principal is a rough guideline. Research thoroughly and use only that which is essential to your plot. This for me is about a fifth of what I study. Getting the balance right can be tricky, but my novels are about the characters as they navigate through their world, not a history lesson.
However, make sure your research is accurate. Believe that all your readers are experts in the field you are writing and will stop reading, throw your book away and write a negative review if you get anything wrong. Accurate research is important.
© Elsie King 2022
Photos in this post © L.C. Wong 2022