I’m going to mention Steampunk a lot in this piece. Bear with me, even if you’ve no interest whatsoever in Steampunk…
If you’re considering writing a novel or even a longer work of short fiction, you are no doubt aware that at least some level of research will be necessary – more for a novel, less for a short story. There are a great many books on the subject of story and novel creation, but few that actually address the issue of research. However, I have just discovered a title that, although its target Genre, Steampunk, might not be your cup of tea, does an excellent job of highlighting the various aspects of research necessary to not only select a good timeline for your work but infuse it with a healthy dose of reality. The book I refer to is titled Writing Steampunk by Beth Daniels.
Don’t let the fact that this book focuses on Steampunk steer you away. Although the various research resources recommended aim specifically at the Steampunk genre, it’s the kinds of resources and why they should be considered that are key here.
For example, since the Steampunk genre generally takes place between the late 18th and late 19th centuries (sometimes even the early 20th century), the book mentions such invaluable resources as The Timetables of History: A Historical Linkage of People and Events and The Illustrated History of the 19th Century. With these resources you’re able to see at a glance what inventions and people existed in the time period you’re considering, so that you can add actual people ad things to your story to make it seem more real. Although Steampunk, by its very nature, usually stretches and skews history well out of proportion, inventions are often hopped across decades to achieve certain objectives; the people, however, usually remain roughly where they belong in history.
In addition to explaining how to explore timetables for useful tidbits, Writing Steampunk also explores how to select your target age group, how to make sure the clothing you select for your characters are correct to the period, what modes of transportation were most common, various forms of weaponry they might have carried; Daniels even covers what kinds of adult and children’s games and sports were common during various years and decades.
Stringing together any number of the elements touched upon in this book will give your fiction far greater dimension and believability than you ever imagined possible. Not only will your characters be properly dressed, ride the correct mode of transportation, use just the right slang, carry the right newspaper under their arm and right firearm in their coat or handbag, but they’ll also notice the crowd of children playing just the right game and singing the right songs for the period.
Writing Steampunk isn’t a research resource; what it is, however, is a resource that explains what resources you should consider for the work you plan to do. And whether you’re planning a Steampunk adventure, a romance, a war epic, a vampire yarn or a science fiction yarn, the resources mentioned in this title will either directly aid your setting and characters or they will give you some idea about similar resources more specific to your time period.
Remember, solid research means a more solid framework for your story.