Thursday, February 10, 2011

Authentic Storyworlds

I was asked once how I, as an author, choose or create my story-world and give that setting authenticity

I loved that question. Choosing my setting is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing a story. I write historical fiction, so I need to pick a location, but also a time period. One of the reasons I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in history is because I love getting lost in other times and places. I can’t wait to write a book set in ancient Egypt or Greece, I have ideas for Italy and Russia, I want to delve into the old royal courts and medieval countrysides. I even have a project set in the old American West (not something I ever thought I'd write, but I'm always up for a challenge). I am very partial to England, Ireland, and Scotland, and my first two novels are set in those regions.

But in order to get lost in these time periods, and most importantly, in order to suck my reader into the past along with me, the setting needs to be believable. A woman in a huge satin ball gown, walking through the palace of Charles II, had better not have a cell phone ringing in her handbag.

Which brings me to how I give the setting authenticity. The answer…a LOT of research. I research everything, from clothing (down to the undergarments) and weaponry, to money values and housing availability, to who was on the throne and what the political setting was like. In order to make my reader believe that they are really in whatever time period I have chosen, I have to make sure the historical tidbits that I have sprinkled throughout the story are authentic and accurate.

This has made for some interesting emails on my part. I’ve emailed horticulture societies to find out what kind of flowers bloom in January in a certain region of England (not so odd). But, I did once get to ask a bone expert if a body that has been buried for a century would still have any hair (it wouldn't, in most cases). I have researched things as odd as what a laudanum bottle would look like in 1755 England, to when crowbars came into existence and what exactly they were called, to whether or not toilets were commonly used in 1855 England (they weren’t).

But it is an absolute thrill for me to get lost in the past. Which is why what I do. I write historical novels because I can use the knowledge I have been acquiring over the years, indulge my love of research, mix it all up with the stories that are percolating in my head, and get lost in a world that was once real. I choose a place I want to go, a time period I would love to have seen (at least for a short visit) and create the perfect characters to live in them. And it’s a grand adventure every time :D

How do you make your storyworlds authentic? 


  1. I agree, research is KEY! I skirt the issue by either writing about a setting close to home or making up something, LOL!

    If I ever write a historical or about a "real" city, I'll definitely study it first. ;)

  2. I also have a historical somewhere in my mind...

    Lots and lots of research.

    Every time I add something, I have to research that thing I added.

    Luckily I love learning new things.


  3. You are awesome at this! I have trouble researching, but I'm sure it's something that gets better with practice. I always end up on Google, sorting through advertisements for costume swords or something. Emailing experts sounds like fun, though! Where do you find your experts?

    I get around my poor research skills by writing fantasy or in settings I've personally lived. I'd love to set a story in South Africa, though. I'll have to master researching then, for sure!

  4. lol I actually always start out online with google....amazing what you can find :)You have to be careful with the sources you find, make sure they are real and reputable, but the internet really is incredible for research.

  5. Research, an active imagination, and like Katrina, writing fantasy (where you can dream up the rest) is how I make mine authentic. =)

  6. Great post! My debut novel, Before Ever After, is partly a historical adventure. There is truly is no substitute for solid research. My biggest thrill is when I find gaps I can fill in with my story or little bits of lore I can build on.


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