You’ll notice that a lot of writers set their novels and short stories in places they either live in or have lived in. This may seem provincial, but in fact, it makes for good writing. If authors know a place well, they can create a realistic setting, an intriguing background for their writing. Setting is one of the important components of any piece of fiction.
My adult mystery series, featuring amateur sleuth and psychic librarian Kim Reynolds, consists of four novels: THE INFERNO COLLECTION, THE DROWNING POOL, THE TRUTH SLEUTH and THE BAD WIFE, all set in
Central New Jersey where I lived for forty years.
But what about historical fiction, writing about times and people of long ago? The answer here is that writers need to do research. The fact is that every type of fiction, contemporary or historical, requires a certain amount of research, some more than others.
I believe the best fiction combines elements of what we actually know with research into what we need to find out. I’m no fan of info dumping in fiction, but writers do need to read and discover a lot more information than they will actually use in their work before they begin writing.
A good way to find out about a particular period in time is to peruse available reference books at your local library on the period. Examine time lines first. What important events were happening in the world, in that particular country and in the geographic area, historical as well as political? How did people dress? What did they eat? What were their general beliefs? How were women treated? Your library catalog will allow you to locate appropriate books that you can borrow as well. Reference librarians can also provide helpful input.
One historical novelist suggests writing the book first and then researching the areas that need filling in. But I prefer immersing myself in an historical period and setting before starting to write. It’s true there will always be some essential information that requires further research. However, that should be part of the revision process.
I tried to seamlessly incorporate the culture and history of the turbulent historic West into my novel THE KILLING LAND. The characters represent the viewpoints and prejudices of those times. A lot was going on in the
in the 1880’s. And a lot of it
was pretty violent. You had cattle barons and ranchers opposed to sheepherders
and homesteaders and vice versa, leading to range wars—people fighting over
land rights. Then there were Native Americans, many of them hostile to the
people they saw as usurping their ancestral lands. There were also lawless
outlaws to contend with. Arizona Territory
My main character, Mary MacGreggor, is no cream puff, but as a settler coming from the East with her family, she discovers life in the West poses many challenges that she was unprepared to contend with. The reader discovers them right along with Mary.
There’s a lot of satisfaction is both reading and writing well-researched fiction whether historical or contemporary. Which do you prefer?