Happy Monday, SEers! You’re with Mae today as we wind down to the last week of November. If you live in the U.S., that means it’s almost Thanksgiving. I wish you a happy Turkey Day in advance. May it be filled with fun, family, and good food!
Earlier this month, I shared a post about researching locales for settings. If you missed that post, you can find it HERE. Today, I want to talk about other time periods. And no—this isn’t simply a post for writers of historical fiction. Often, it’s necessary to reference something from another time period, whether an event, person, furnishings, or custom. As usual, the internet is a great tool with plenty of blogs devoted to historical information and various time periods. I use it frequently. Most every novel I’ve written draws on some aspect of history, with several having entire chapters set in the past.
My normal MO is to immerse myself in nonfiction related to the time period of interest. This is especially true if I’m researching a specific event (i.e, the collapse of the Silver Bridge in Point Pleasant, West Virginia) or topic (sham mediums in the late 1800s). I’ll buy anywhere from 1-3 books, read through them with a highlighter, making notes in a separate workbook as I go. Usually as I read, I’m plotting how to apply the information to my characters or setting. This is a lengthy process which I normally undertake before I start a new writing project.
Often, however, I simply need a quick reference. That’s when I’ll hop on the internet, or I’ll grab a reference dictionary.
Many years ago, as a member of the Writers Digest Book Club, I purchased a series of books that I still find extremely useful. The book to the left is the one I use the most, but I also own several other titles. These include The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Ages, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Colonial America, The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West, and Everyday Life Among the American Indians.
My 1800’s reference book is dogeared, has multiple highlights, scribblings, and several bookmarks sticking from the pages. It’s easy to look up a topic such as “Clothing and Fashion,” or “Slang and Everyday Speech,” then find an overview followed by an alphabetical list with brief definitions.
Godey’s Lady Book: a popular women’s magazine begun in 1830 that featured color fashion plates as well as serial stories, verses, etc.
Maybe I just want to drop that name to add flavor and authenticity to a scene. Or—now that I have a starting point—I can reference the internet for more information. How long was the magazine in publication? Will it fit my decade? (If you’re interested, it ended publication in 1878 and was most widely circulated prior to the Civil War).
Although these books are out of print, most are available through third party sellers and marketplace sources on Amazon, eBay, Google, and Barnes & Noble. I realize not all writers have a need, but these are a handy tool for anyone curious about other time periods.
When I was writing fantasy (my main genre for many years), I found The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Middle Age a useful reference for weapons and clothing. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West was excellent for my forays into short story writing, as well as a full length novel set in a fictional western town in the 1870s (which will probably never see the light of day).
Now, it’s your turn. Have you ever needed to research previous eras for your novel(s)? What sources do you use? Do some work better than others, and are there some that you return to time and time again? Drop your thoughts into the discussion below.
Ready, Set, Go!