I thought I’d talk about research.
Research is obviously essential when you are writing a historical. I write in the Regency era, roughly from 1810 to 1820, the time of Jane Austen, Lord Byron and the Napoleonic Wars. To write in this era, I need to know period detail. For example, I need to know how my characters travel around. I mean, they must be on foot, on horseback or in a carriage. No trains, planes or automobiles. Not only is transportation different, but clothing, food, houses, daily pastimes—almost everything about setting needs to be authentic to the Regency period.
Not only setting, though. Characters in my novels have to talk like Regency people. They have to think like Regency people, move like Regency people.
To be as accurate as possible, I have accumulated over 500 books and lots of skill on online research. I’ve also traveled to England to visit Regency sites in person and have been known to email museum curators to answer an obscure research question.
Here’s the deal, though. I don’t think the need for research is confined to historical authors. Authors of all genres need to do their research.
Contemporary authors, you need to set their books somewhere. If you use a real place—say, Washington, D.C. near where I live—you need to know how far the Capitol is from the White House and how to get there. You need to know that Adams Morgan is a trendy, culturally diverse neighborhood with restaurants, bars, and shops, not where Embassy Row is located.
Even if you contemporary authors make up a fictional town, there is bound to be something that will require research. If the heroine runs a travel agency, you will have to learn something about how a travel agency works. Or a restaurant. Or a social services agency.
The Contemporary author may have to do some research about character, too. For example, if the hero is coming back from war, what might his reactions to normal life be? If he has PTSD, what would the symptoms be? If you get the specific details about setting and character wrong, some readers will notice.
But what of the Sci Fi or Fantasy author?
I admit, you ladies can get away with making it all up—almost. I’ll bet, though, that there will always be something to research. If you write about shape-shifters, you must know something about how others have explained shape shifters, even if you decide to explain it differently. There are certain conventions that readers might expect of stories about vampires, werewolves, or fairies. If you decide to alter the conventions in your story, you have to know how to explain it so readers will accept the difference. If you don’t you run the risk of readers saying, But vampires don’t behave that way.
And you Sci Fi authors don’t get away with no research either. Your science must be accurate or your fictional world won’t make sense to readers.
Authors differ, though, in how important research is in their stories. Not every historical author would spend an hour researching just what specific carriage their version of Darcy might ride in. Would it be a cabriolet? A phaeton? Or would it matter if Darcy arrived in a brougham, even though that carriage was not invented until years later? There are historical authors to whom this would not matter a bit, who write wonderful books even so.
So my question to authors and readers today is, how important is it to you that details of setting and character be well-researched?
For my April 2015 book, Bound By Duty, first in my new Scandalous Summerfields series, I had to do a lot of research about Brussels and the Battle of Waterloo, but, for me, the research is half the fun of writing the book.
Bound By Duty tells the story of Tess Summerfield whose life is changed forever when she’s rescued from drowning by the mysterious Marc Glenville and forced to spend the night with him in a deserted cottage. When they are discovered, the only way Marc can preserve Tess’s reputation is to marry her. But his duties as a spy soon tear Marc away from the marriage bed. When they’re at last reunited days before Waterloo, can they rekindle the flame born from the ashes of scandal?
Diane Gaston writes award-winning Regency Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical. Her 25 books with Harlequin have sold over a million copies over the years and have been translated into countless languages, including Japanese Manga. Diane, once a mental health social worker, lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.