In my last post, I referred to what I call historical fiction with texture.
What does this mean? I call it texture when a historical novelist can call into being the physical world that surrounds her characters. When a novel has texture, a reader can jump through the imaginary barrier between fiction and life and walk through the vivid settings that the characters inhabit.
There's one problem with this type of historical fiction. It takes a TON of work.
And there's another problem too. The more detail you insert in your historical novels, the more opportunities you create for historical errors.
That's why, in some ways, it would be easier to write historical fiction without texture. But it doesn't satisfy me. As a writer, I must write what I'm passionate about, and I'm passionate about creating the detail that allows readers to transport themselves to a different time. I'm not just telling a good story that happens to take place over a century ago. I'm writing that story BECAUSE it took place over a century ago.
So my chosen style of writing requires extensive research.
And I don't mind. I quite like it.
If I didn't like research, I couldn't have survived graduate school education in research methods. My grad school experience has helped me many times as I identify vital questions I need to answer before I can work on a certain part of my novel. Because the real research challenge is narrowing down the crucial pieces of information that are missing from my perspective. Anyone can browse through an archive and write down interesting facts. But once I start to assemble a plot, I have to know which details are so basic that I cannot start without them.
Last week, I contacted the Columbus Metropolitan Library for assistance. I had done everything in my power to find an answer to a question through print and internet sources, and I simply did not have access to the right sources. I live too far away from the local history archives that I need for this third novel in my trilogy.
Those Columbus librarians and scholars were wonderful. They answered my first question immediately, and offered additional help.
I've had this kind of warm, enthusiastic support several times as I've worked on this trilogy over the years. It gives me hope to find others who care about history and learning so much that they offer assistance to strangers sheerly because they want to share their knowledge.
Have you ever had assistance from others as you researched a novel? How does texture work to inspire you in your writing? How do you feel about texture, as a reader?