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Novel Research: 12 Ways to Ace Your Book
April 10, 2016
by K.M. Weiland
I’m starting to get paranoid. It happens with every book I write. I reach the end of the first draft, start tying off loose ends on the first round of edits, and prepare to send the book to my first round of beta readers. That’s when I inevitably start asking myself panicked questions about the accuracy of of my novel research.
Maybe these self-directed questions will sound familiar:
- What if my novel research isn’t good enough?
- What if I put a street on the wrong side of the city?
- What if I’ve got the dialect all wrong?
- What if I’ve included a glaring anachronism?
The book I’m currently at work on—my historical superhero saga Wayfarer—is set in London during the Regency era (think Jane Austen). In many ways, it has been the most difficult of all the historical novels I’ve written, primarily because it takes place in such a popular period. I had some leeway in writing about the medieval Crusades (for one thing, the language is so different, perfect accuracy isn’t desired much less demanded) and the American west (where legend has taken over fact in so many areas).
But the Regency period? Put a chapeau-bras out of place, and fanatical readers will know it.
Never mind that the book is also set in London, which means correctly portraying a city I’ve never visited.
And don’t get me started on the language. Unlike the Middle Ages, 1820 isn’t so far away that the language of the period isn’t still decipherable to modern ears. What that means, of course, is every word choice must be filtered through not just the demands of British English, but also the question: Did that word even exist back then?
Cue the paranoia.
The Two Sides to Novel Research: Accuracy and Authenticity
There are two good reasons for any author to indulge in this paranoia over “the facts” in a novel (whether it’s historical or not).
Reason #1 to Panic: Your Readers Are Smarter Than You
Scary thought, ain’t it? Now granted, not all of them are going to be smarter (aka, better read on your subject than are you). But I guarantee there will be a lot of them. No matter how conscientious you are in your research about Roman sewer systems or stamp collecting, there will always be someone who knows something you don’t. And if that person happens to read your book, they may well call you out on your mistakes.
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