Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Historicity: It's in the Details

I’m on the history-wagon at the moment. It might have something to do with my attempts at novel-related research.

Actually, it probably has a lot to do with that.

That’s because I’ve been doing a lot of research recently. Part of my research is supposed to be developing a medieval setting for my fantasy series. That’s an issue on its own, and it has only proven so far that I need a better mix of primary source documents and re-enactors guidelines—like that one Daily Life book targeted specifically at the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Most history books, you see, assume that people want to know about important things. Things like which king fought that other king, until he decided to marry the other king’s daughter instead—and then kept fighting anyway.

I like that sort of history. I really do. I can even remember a few dates, enough to know when the Magna Carta was signed (June 15th, 1215—it’s easy to remember with two fifteens in the date). Still, I do prefer to read about people’s stories within history.

There was one lady, for example, famous for helping to hold off Viking invasions. She showed up in my research for a Medieval Literature class, and I liked her. I’d like to write a story about her, or someone like her, if I can ever dig out my notes to remember who she was.

It’s just that, if I want to write about her, I also want to know what sort of architecture was used in the town she was defending, how the townsfolk planted their fields, what they planted, whether they got to eat most of it or whether it was destroyed by the fighting or went to pay taxes, or was traded off for salt or leather or iron. Did most people wear shoes? Did they go to church? What sort of liturgy would the priest use?

And, even though I’m not writing about medieval England at the moment, I want to know things like this for my fantasy series. I’m supposed to be creating a semi-medieval setting, if I don’t take it forward to renaissance in some places.

Of course, since I like old, old history in general, this research might become an excuse to write other types of fiction (see the famous lady example above). It’ll just have to wait until I have time, and until I can put it into much better and much more thorough order. And until I get better at finding the right sort of history books.

That might be the real problem. I fail at being a historian. History research takes organization, both in putting information into order, keeping track of it once it’s in order, and in starting the research off correctly. Just ask me about my New England novel…

Or maybe I’ll just tell you about it next time.


Krista M.V. said...

That's why I stick to fiction. :P There is too much research to do while writing a historical fiction. But someday I do want to write one... But for now I'll stay with what I'm good at.

Hmm, this makes me want to read a good, long history book! ;) I'm a bit of a history nerd myself!

Audrey said...

You might find historical fiction easier than you think, Krista! I used to think writing fantasy would be easier too. After a few years at it, though, I suspect that I'm putting as much work into creating a believable world as I would into researching actual historical details. Of course, I do get obsessed about details like languages and farming techniques that aren't really important to the story!

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