Katherine Longshore Reply Wednesday, April 03, 2013

My dictionary defines the word research (for our purposes) as a transitive verb: • to discover facts by investigation for use in (a book, program, etc.) 

But recently, I looked at it differently.  The prefix re- means Ÿ once more; afresh; anew.  If we look at the word with this definition of the prefix, it could mean to search again. 

Historical fiction requires a lot of research using both of these ways of looking at the word.  I do tons of preliminary research—discovering facts by investigation.  I read histories and biographies, I scour timelines, I explore any primary sources that have been transcribed and posted online.  I try to visit some of the places I describe—even if the buildings are no longer there.  I read popular psychology about relationships and interactions between women and the lives of girls today. 

I try to store all of this information as best I can.  I am a very visual thinker and reader, so I can conjure up pictures of what I think the great hall of Greenwich might look like after reading Alison Weir.  Or I imagine a conversation between two characters after reading a book like Odd Girl Out.

I take notes.  Copious notes.  I have index cards with me at all times and beside my bed and reading chair at home, just so I can take a note that I think might be relevant.  I keep all of these in little boxes, sorted according to specific detail or character.  I can refer back to these if and when it’s needed.

But sometimes, I need to re-search.  Usually after a first draft is finished, I’ll start reading again.  I’ll reread a book like Alison Weir’s Henry VIII the King and his Court, just to see if any images or details jump out at me the second time around—anything that may affect this book and this draft specifically.  I go back to places I describe—Hever Castle comes to mind—so I can get the view from the window just right or the smell of the river.  And I’ve got a terrible head for numbers, so I constantly have to call up Wikipedia to check birth dates and years for my characters (though before I turn in a draft, I make sure I confirm these dates using a fact-checked and reliable source).

Even with all this research and all these resources, I know I get some things wrong.  I’ve caught other historical novelists in errors.  I try my best not to make mistakes.  I cringe at the very idea.  I’m kept up nights by mistakes I’ve already made. 

So I re-search.  And hope I get it right the next time.

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