Researching a historical fiction novel is a lot of work. After writing one, I understand why writers tend to stay with one time period in subsequent novels. Not only is it likely that in doing the research a million new ideas were spawned, but the research itself can be all-consuming and switching to another era means starting the process all over again. When I wrote FEAST OF SORROW I spent a good five months or so sucking down everything I could about ancient Rome. I immersed myself, reading only books about the era, from ancient and modern authors alike. I kept a notebook but I also had a wide variety of other tools that I used to keep track of all the information. And over the next three years that I wrote the book I kept learning and adding to that data repository.
Now I'm back at it, starting the process of organizing information. Here's my process, in case it is useful for others:
- The notebook: I hand write a lot of notes, mostly from library books. I love Moleskine, not for the hipster factor but I just love the paper and the simple, hard covers (red all the way!).
- Scrivener: I love Scrivener (I use the Windows version) for writing. I also keep some of my digital research in the program, especially photos where I can. Since much of it is historical, the photos are primarily paintings, sculpture, drawings of houses, architecture, etc. I keep all this data in separate folders for each topic. Of course, my own photos end up in these files as well.
- Evernote: This is the best tool for clipping web information, I've found. Much of this clipped info ends up in Scrivener later, but for being able to quickly save, tag and access info, it's the best out there.
- Writer's Cafe/Storylines: I checked out this tool early on to see if it would fit my needs for research collection and writing. It is a good place to collect research, build characters, etc., but since much of what I do is clipped from the Web then added into my writing tool, overall it didn't fit the bill for me. The Storyline component, however, is the best piece of software I've found to help with the problem of timelines. For me I have a historical timeline--what actually happened in the world--plus a timeline of what happens to my characters. Being able to plot them easily together, broken out into chapters and motivations, is key.
- The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge from Transworld (mgfloyd.com)
- The Farther Shores of Historical Fiction. (nutsandcrisps.wordpress.com)
- The Big Idea: D.B. Jackson (whatever.scalzi.com)
- 5 Simple (But Surprisingly Effective) Ways To Research Your Story (ollinmorales.wordpress.com)