When I tell other authors that I write historical, one of the more common responses I get (assuming they don’t write historical themselves) is something along the lines of “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a historical, but the all the research and the accuracy and the details are just too intimidating.” They prefer to write contemporaries, set in a world they already know, or perhaps paranormals, where they not only get to do a lot of world-building but also get to make all the rules for how the world works. After all, if you write a book set in a fantasy world of your own creation, no one can come along and complain later that you got some fact about that world wrong .1
But one of the things that I find most rewarding about writing historicals is making the details of a story match the actual facts of the period. Sometimes, this can be a real challenge. Other times, it almost seems as if the gods are smiling down upon you and granting you a historical fact so pertinent and perfect, you wonder if the annals of history haven’t been altered just to suit your book.
Such a thing happened to me today. The book I’m currently working on is set in 1817 during the London (and Parliamentary) Season. My hero is a duke and takes his responsibility in the House of Lords quite seriously, attending sessions with near religious zeal. (As an added bonus, this devotion to duty keeps him busy enough that his absence from most Society functions, which he prefers to avoid, is mostly unremarked by his peers.)
In the next scene in the book, however, I wanted him to be sitting in Parliament, listening to arguments over a bill–a bill he and his block would normally vote against. But, because he is so distracted by recent events involving the heroine, he quite loses track of the discussion and inadvertently votes in favor of something he finds reprehensible. The question was…what could that bill be? I wanted to find a bill that was actually put up to a vote during the legislative session of 1817, and I wanted it to be something my hero should obviously not favor. And I didn’t want to have to order a book from Amazon and wait a week or more for it to be delivered. I need to write this scene today, not sometime in February. Unfortunately, I wasn’t having much luck finding what I needed, even using the awesome Google Books search feature.
Thanks to The Beau Monde’s wonderful Yahoo loop, which is populated with people who really know their stuff, and the amazing Nancy Mayer in particular, I was able to find exactly what I was looking for. She pointed me toward the Annual Register, which covered the political and cultural events of each year. I found the perfect bill for my hero to vote for by accident. Even better, it was brought to a third reading and vote on June 19th, which was a Thursday. And as it happens, the events which have so distracted him occured, according to what I’ve already written, on a Wednesday.
Squee! I can’t wait to write the scene!
YOUR TURN: How about you? Do you love research? Hate it? Do historical details like this even matter to you? Do tell!
1I have been known to point out logical inconsistencies in the rules for a paranormal world, however. If, for example, you say at one point that it is totally impossible for a werewolf to impregnate a human, you had better not come along later and get your human heroine pregnant by your werewolf hero. Ahem. I digress.