Historical accuracy is paramount. Without this, your novel is doomed and so are you.
A friend of mine read a novel from a well known author and found a glaring historical inaccuracy, which should never have been written by the author in the first place. It certainly should have been picked up by the editor, but it wasn’t. My friend has never bought another book from this author because she says, I can’t trust her anymore.
You should always write about an era that you are interested in. I am not into Vikings or Regency, so it would be tedious trying to do the research required for this, and I wouldn’t have the passion about it, and I am sure this would show in my writing.
Research options are many and varied.
Library reference books are a great place to start.
Cemeteries (as long as you aren’t scared of spiders and snakes).
Quizzing elderly relatives (depending, of course, on which era you are writing about). 2nd World War, Vietnam, Great Depression – all o.k. because they would have lived during these times.
Accessing family diaries and/or letters.
Actually visiting places where your story takes place or somewhere similar is a must, if possible.
I visited an old jail (now a tourist attraction) for my novel, Daring Masquerade, because my heroine was jailed for being a spy. I wanted to see what it was like. The walls were solid bluestone and cold, even on a warm day. The cell was small, and I swear there was a spooky aura about the place. I took a notebook with me and jotted down these feeling as they came to me.
Depending on what you are writing, for your settings I think it is imperative to name some towns or cities near to where your stories are going to be played out.
You must know the area, either by having visited it, or careful research. You need to know what grows there, the terrain, climate etc. I always set most of my stories in Australia in North Eastern Victoria, because I know the area well. Mention a few main towns, but I am never too specific, because you can get easily caught out. (I am talking historical romance here, not a text book on history). I always make up a fake town near a main town or city.
In my novel, Wild Oats, set in 1916, I said the heroine lived at Dixon’s Siding (made up name) i.e. They left the farm at Dixon’s Siding, and after riding for an hour (I am talking horseback here,) reached Wangaratta, which is a major town in the area.
I purposely did not say that Dixon’s Siding was (exactly 10 miles west of Wangaratta at the fork of the Smith/Jones Road, because I didn’t know for sure, that there wasn’t a giant lake there or a massive quarry in 1916. I probably could have found out with more research, but it wasn’t really necessary.
A little quiz, to show you what I mean.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE STATEMENTS?
1.30a.m., 25th April 1915. Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey
Danny shivered in the chilly air as he waited on the deck of the troopship. In the darkness he couldn’t see land, even though someone said it was less than three miles away. When his turn came, he climbed down the rope ladder and found himself in an open boat. Excitement surged through him. He had traveled halfway around the world for this moment and was keen to give a good account of himself.
A. The soldiers landed at 0130 hours, not 1.30a.m. No soldier would say 1.30a.m. The army always uses the 24 hour clock
My work in progress is set in 1854
On arrival at the homestead, Melanie unsaddled the mare and let her loose in the stockyards James had constructed from split logs. Surprising how neglected a house became after being left empty for a few days
Within 5 minutes she had dusted the kitchen and was sitting down having a cup of hot milky tea?
Where did she get the milk? Not from the refrigerator. She would have had to milk the cow first. The water would have to be boiled on a wood stove? She would have had to light the stove, maybe even cut the wood. (No microwaves in those days).
In Daring Masquerade in 1916, the heroine, desperate to find out what has happened to her husband who is missing in action, rings up a family friend who is a Colonel in the army. She punches in the telephone number and anxiously waits for him to pick up the phone.
No, she lives in the country, so she would have contacted the operator, dialled the exchange etc. And she certainly didn’t use a mobile phone. And, on her wedding night, her nightgown was exquisite, a soft, white polyester, lavishly trimmed with lace.
No polyester in those days, it would have been cotton, silk or even satin.
Know the area you are writing about
This is an extreme example, but it does happen.
England - It was December, the sun streamed down from a cloudless blue sky and Amy felt so hot she didn’t know how she would be able to walk back to the railway station.
Of course, in England in December, it would be winter time. Here in Australia it is summer.
You must be aware of modern language and slang, and don’t use it.
A poor, uneducated person wouldn’t speak the same way as a rich, educated person.
There are lots of traps for the unwary, but historical romance writing is very rewarding and if done correctly, can transport your reader back to another time and place full of daring exploits and handsome, swashbuckling heroes.