Historical research is like an iceberg

The post Historical Fiction Would Be Better If, created lots of discussion with well known authors like Elizabeth Chadwick and MM Bennetts adding their thoughts to the mix. Three topics bubbled to the surface:

  • dialogue – achieving the right balance between authenticity and clarity and pace
  • research – enough to make the period come to life without weighing the story down
  • emotional anachronisms – keeping characters believable in the context of their times (the term emotional anachronisms was introduced by MM Bennetts)

Catherine M Wilson offered this point: “I think of research as the whole iceberg. What actually appears in the book is that little bit floating above the surface, but it rests on the huge block of ice that lies unseen below the waterline.”

I’ve interpreted her words and the comments of others in this picture:

Keeping the iceberg in mind seems like a good idea to me. I’ve often spent hours researching a particular area only to write one or two sentences, any one of which might later be deleted when striving to improve the pace and energy of my novels.

If you’re a writer, what do you think? If you’re a reader, which authors do you think are masters of the iceberg?