Time Travel – Unlocking the Past

LockTuesday’s post itemized the topics historical fiction authors should research when writing a novel. Today’s post offers a list of potential sources to explore in order to do so. (Again based on author interviews and my own reading and thinking on the subject.)

  • primary sources such as first hand accounts, letters, memoirs, legal documents, treaties etc; these can also give a sense of language and attitudes of the time
  • academic secondary sources, non-fiction books
  • archaeological reports
  • site visits to appreciate buildings, landscape, flora and fauna, views; to feel the land and see the people; to hear the language and engage your senses; to walk the streets and imagine your characters doing the same; never assume that things look the same today as they did in the past
  • museum visits to see artefacts of the time period
  • art, paintings, contemporary portraiture and photographs from the time period show people, clothing, how much traffic is around and what sort, shop fronts, advertisements; they also illustrate attitudes and interests of the time
  • re-enactment groups
  • academic lecture attendance
  • engagement and discussions with experts in a field of interest, graduate students can also be a source of information
  • internet trawling for articles, reports, historical timelines
  • Project Gutenberg for out of print novels, diaries, journals and more
  • Pinterest boards
  • period novels (i.e. novels written at the time) to get a sense of how people thought about events then, not how they thought about them through the lens of today
  • resources published at the time such as newspapers, pictures, etc.
  • biographies of contemporaries and important figures of the time
  • recipes
  • etiquette manuals and books detailing social customs and conduct
  • talking to locals
  • the bibliographies of books are goldmines that lead to other sources and experts
  • for language and dialogue, talking to actors and voice coaches
  • a good source of character and dialogue is reading diaries from the time
  • find books on historical slang, synonyms and foreign phrases
  • dictionaries of quotations
  • books of names
  • books on furniture, costume and houses
  • copies of Who’s Who and Whitaker’s Almanack or equivalent
  • hotel and tourist guides and maps from the era
  • primary source records such as judicial reports, school log books and local newspapers
  • old maps and Google maps
  • search plays, letters, poetry, stories, and newspapers for suitable names that were popular in the period
  • graveyards and memorials are also helpful for names, facts about your potential characters, typical life spans, class differences, causes of death, family sentiments
  • transcripts of old court cases
  • advertisements
  • broadsheets and plays are ways to access the authentic vocabulary of the time
  • legal documents such as wills, court rolls
  • recordings conducted at the time
  • interviews conducted at the time
  • civil and military records
  • town histories
  • ships’ logs
  • farm journals
  • listen to music, songs and instruments from the period
  • check records on the period for mentions of floods, snow, hot dry summers

Some of these you will stumble upon, others you will deliberately seek out. Don’t get lost in the research. Remember your primary purpose is to tell a story.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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5 Responses

  1. Brilliant list, thank you. I tend to start with secondary sources about the period, just so I get a general feel about the period. I then start zooming in the various aspects and start looking at primary sources etc.

    Thank you for sharing.

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