History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

01 February 2012

Real Life Research

All the Hoydens share a love of research. In dusty archives (as dramatized so well in the Eloise portions of Lauren's books), on the internet, on trips to museums and historic locations. One place we don't think of historical novelists doing research is our own lives. And yet I find real life experience serves as research fodder more often than one might think.

Isobel's experience with reenactments means she has hands-on knowledge 0f how a corset laces and how one goes through a doorway wearing panniers. A modern-day nonprofit benefit may be different from a Mayfair ball, but certain things - the press of the crowd, the buzz of conversation, the clink of glasses, the rustle and sweep of wearing a long gown - translate into the experience of my characters. Doing a seating arrangement for a family dinner, I have sudden sympathy for the challenges faced by my diplomatic hostess heroine. My characters' cat Berowne is taken directly from my cat Lescaut. Before I had my own child, the children in my books were inspired by my friends' children. Not modeled on them exactly, but they definitely served as models for different ages and stages of development. Now I confess as I delight in watching my daughter Mélanie (who is observing me with great interest as I write this blog post) a part of me is taking notes for the next time I write about a newborn baby.

Writers, which of your real life experiences serve as historical writing research? Readers, is the reverse true? Which scenes in historical novels resonate with your present-day experiences?

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Blogger Alyssia said...

Like you, Tracey, my most recent experience is being with child. Granted, I'm not due for another 4-5 weeks, but the heroine in my current historical WIP has a young son. Just this morning, I was thinking of adding in a reflection, a fond memory of when he was still in the womb, stretching, kicking, etc. Because I know now exactly what that feels like, the joy in the sheer experience of housing a child in one's body.

Very cool post. I wish I attended more formal galas and parties, if only to know what the crush of those society balls must've felt like! :)

3:54 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

I remember my godmother (also a novelist) warning people that everything they said and did was potential fodder for her books. And I’ve read things in her books that I recognize from real life: Snippets of conversation, good one-liners, things the dogs did, fights that erupted in my family circle. I’ve given all my friends the same warning, and yes, lots of little things from my every day life leak over into my books. And of course all my books have dogs in them. BIG dogs. I can’t help it. And the stuff the dogs do is defiantly inspired by my boy and his sisters (and all the dogs I grew up with).

7:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So exciting about your baby, Alyssia! Very cool you're working in your heroine's memories of being pregnant. I've been having my heroine remember when her toddler was a newborn.

10:41 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So cool to grow up with a writer, isobel. And I think it's so true that for fiction writers everything in life is research.

10:45 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

When I was writing poetry I ALWAYS had a notebook with me and it was just filled with snippets of things I heard or thought that I wanted to keep track of for latter use.

11:34 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I often think I should keep a notebook for observations - or jot them down on my phone now. Mostly I just make mental notes of things - something like a glorious storm-tossed sky can translate into another locale and era.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

When I was writing my women's fiction about native New Yorkers, set in NYC, I drew a lot from the daily pulse of the city, its atmosphere, favorite haunts, my own life and that of coworkers, friends and family. One novel in particular, TEMPORARY INSANITY, qualifies as a true roman a clef, being almost entirely a fictionalized biography.

With my historical fiction as well as my nonfiction Royal books, I travel as much as I can to places that figure in the books and walk in the footsteps of the figures in the books.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Juliet Grey said...

Great post, Tracy! I walked in Marie Antoinette's footsteps quite a bit both in Austria and France to research my Marie Antoinette trilogy, but I'm also finding that I can sit back at my desk and watch the news every day because so much of the political climate in America for the past few years, ever since the emergence of the Tea Party, has mirrored many of the issues and emotions and demagoguery that was going on in the days leading up to the French Revolution and in the early days of the Revolution. I even find myself having a visceral reaction to some of our own current events and I know that at least subconsciously, it's present in my mind as I was writing the second book of the trilogy, DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW, which comes out in May, and as I now write the final book in the trilogy, THE LAST OCTOBER SKY, which takes place between 1789-93.

4:45 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I've never written a contemporary, Leslie, but I often think the research would be more challenging because there's *so* much information available - and so many people who've actually lived the life one's writing about to judge the verisimilitude.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great point, Juliet. I think one of the fascinating things about historical fiction is that it often says something about the time in which it is written as well as the time in which it is set.

12:07 PM  

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