Tag Archives: research

The Details Start the Engine

by Kay Springsteen

Imagine building a car and forgetting to install a crucial part of the engine. If it starts at all, it’s not likely to run well, and it may end up stopping rather abruptly. Those who assemble cars, no matter what stage of the car they work on, follow a blueprint—detailed plans that outline exactly what part goes in what position. Every part has a place and every place requires the part that fits.

Writing is much the same. A story is made up of various elements, to include characters, plot, setting… And it’s the details of each of these that are built upon to present the whole picture. A thought here, a bit of dialogue there, the way the wind pushes the curtain or a ticking clock fills a silence.

When my collaborator, Kim Bowman, and I wrote A Lot Like a Lady, we researched the historical details surrounding our chosen time period and our setting. We probably didn’t get it all right but we’re confident that some of it, at least, is as authentic as we could make it. But because of our research and desire to get it right, our writing actually suffered. Kim and I both tend to write in deep third person point of view and we love to show our characters’ emotions to the point where the reader feels them along with the character. We also like to pay attention to details of the setting – not heavy paragraphs loaded with description but a kind of filtering in of the details as the characters (remember in deep third pov) might experience them.

But in the writing of A Lot Like A Lady, it was as if all the research into the history meant something had to be displaced—the filing cabinet was too full and the detail folder slipped to the rear, or the detail tool bar slid to the side and we failed to notice it. So we wrote a good story between us. We knew what things were called, we found the procedures, the hierarchy of nobility, what servants did what…

And then we went to editing. We were thrilled to have one of the best historical fiction analysts out there as our content editor, J. Gunnar Grey. The attention to historical detail Gunnar gives when writing is carried over into the editing field. This was it. Picture Kim and I giving ourselves high fives. Our good story was about to be made better.

And then the sound of a whip cracking could be heard amid the partying.

“What room are they in? Is it light?”

“Does sunlight filter through the window? What does it hit?”

“Do sounds reach the characters from outside?”

“Are there any vases of flowers sitting around? Is the fragrance light and pleasant or overpowering?”  

Page after page of questions like this. Now imagine Kim and I looking at each other in confusion. Did we really write our story and forget all the settings?

The short, and somewhat embarrassing answer here is simply: Yup. We did. At least for the most part our first draft of A Lot Like A Lady had our characters telling their story in a vacuum.

Now, once we were made aware of this by our jewel of an editor, it became a simple matter to do what we both always do—that being to run back through the entire manuscript and filter in the details that show what the characters saw, heard, touched, tasted, and smelled. We added splashes of sunlight and gentle breezes, the scent of lilies, the splash of a brook.

To soften the blow of pointing out our mistake, our editor did, very nicely, tell us that it was obvious we had simply overlooked layering in these details during our first self-edit in our zeal to provide a more historically accurate picture.

Bottom line here? The details make all the difference. We added a few thousand words worth of details and our characters were no longer telling their story in a vacuum.


Find A Lot Like A Lady on Amazon, Astraea Press, and Barnes & Noble


Armor makes the Man (well his horse anyway.) Part 3

So imagine being large and strong enough a man to support the weight of all the armor needed for a knight to protect themselves on the battlefield. From head to two covered in leather, mail or Plate. Most of the times a combination of all three were worn. Not to mention being strong enough to then still wield a large weapon and shield. Now imagine that same knight needing a horse to carry him and the armor the horse needed.

Needless to say the normal horse wasn’t going to do the trick. The knight would need a large warhorse or charger to sustain his own added weight as well as that of his rider. The horse needed to be a special breed that would pay heed to commands given by leg command, as the knight needed his hands free of reigns to fight and hold his shield.

The horse also needed to be able to fight as well, the brutality of war insisted that the horse be able to trample victims and bite and kick to on command when needed. (Nothing like a strong Hero who has complete control of his steed to try and control our stong heroine)

Armor for the horse is called Barding and usually was made of leather or plate. The Barding covered neck, chest and body. Head armor helped to create a sense of fear in the enemy’s as they were made to look mythical and monstrous. The formal coat of arms worn over the armor was called the trapper.

These horses would have stood over 20 hands tall or well over 7 feet. There colors would have ranged from black, grey, bay or brown, pictures from the time show white tufts of hair around the lower legs. The actual warhorses were the ancestor of today’s draft horses, like the Clydesdales but its believed the actual horses used are now extinct.

Most Knights would have had at least two horses one for the long rides out to the battlefields and one for the battle itself.

If you enjoyed this blog please check out the other two installments all meant to help the historical writer with basic information. Next weeks blog is on weaponry.

A History – Places to research – 18th century

I’ve talked a bit about research books and I will go on to talk more about them in another post. This post is about websites.

Good places to find information on the web are hard to find. Sometimes you don’t know if the information you are getting is accurate. Especially on websites with no educational background. This is why I recommend double checking any info you get from the internet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen contradicting information on lay websites, then found the correct info on encyclopedic or educational websites.

Stuck for names. Baby name sites often have great lists of names and some will even tell you when the name was first, or most often, used.

Need help with speech patterns? Ideas of daily life and politics? You can find a number of 18th an 19th century correspondence. Here

Need more help with speech pattern, behaviors, and rules of society? You can find books from the period to read online.

Educational sites often have dictionaries and informational pages, like this one, and this one.

There are many other well written and informative sites as well, just be sure to check the credibility. Don’t be caught with emails and letters coming in about some small historical inaccuracy because you neglected to do the proper research.
April Dawn
-Author of Crushing Desire and
Bound by Love available now through Breathless Press and Allromance.


Do Your Research

As a romance author, one of the things I’ve found it most difficult to deal with is the fact that I’m supposed to do research. What should I do, watch people kiss and, er, other things?

Not exactly. The romance part of romance writing is usually fairly self-explanatory. It’s all the other details that sometimes need a little more work than just the author’s assumption that they know what they’re talking about. Although if I were to write an M/M romance or a BDSM, I would have to do some research even into the romance parts, because those aren’t things with which I’m exactly familiar.

The point is, if an author is going to write something, they owe it to themselves and their readers to get it right. Whether it’s a contemporary that takes place in a location the author is unfamiliar with, a historical, or a science fiction story with the emphasis on science, the author needs to know what they’re talking about. Some things might make it past the editors and readers. Others won’t.

I touched on this subject a couple weeks ago when I blogged about authors needing to make sure they use names for their characters that are accurate for the characters’ ethnicities and the time and location in which the story takes place. Names aren’t the only thing that needs to be correct in a story, however. For example, I recently wrote a contemporary paranormal in which the good guys had a private jet. On that jet, in the version of the manuscript which I submitted, they cooked scrambled eggs, and the plane had a bedroom. I received a “revise and resubmit” on that manuscript, and one of the notes the editor made asked that I research private jets to find out whether any of them actually have bedrooms and whether it’s possible to cook scrambled eggs on a plane.

I could have refused. It’s fiction, after all. Paranormal fiction, even. If I want to have a plane with a bedroom, why can’t I? Simple answer: Because someone will know better.

Obviously not everyone is an expert in everything. A lack of research won’t be noticeable to most readers, depending on what error that lack causes. The problem comes when a reader who actually does know something reads the book, and questions what they’ve read.

An editor’s job is to make sure the book is ready for the general public. That includes ensuring that the author has done their research. If a historical novel has one character calling another one “Dude,” it’s a pretty safe bet that the author didn’t look up the time period in which they set their story. Even little things like slang or clothing can trip someone up while they’re writing.

The internet has made research much easier than it used to be. Search engines can steer an author to the information they need, or at the very least to books that contain that information. Some authors prefer not to do any research (I have to admit, I fall into that group). The problem is that if no research is done, the potential for obvious mistakes increases. And so does the potential for the story to be rejected.

Research can be time-consuming. It takes time away from the actual writing. But it’s vital for a well-written, accurate story. Putting in that work will pay off in the long run.
Karenna Colcroft

Its all in the research…

So I just finished reading a book today and although it was a fun read and well written, I kept being pulled out of the story by blatant historical errors. Now I am not talking about something small like putting a women in a bustle ten years too soon. That isn’t going to pull me out of story, nor anyone else for that matter. But when an item and its historical relevance is repeatedly referred to, we the authors had better get it right. If my story revolves around a ball point pen I need to make sure my hero isn’t one of the three musketeers who has it. (I know that’s far fetched but you get my point)

So here are some questions you need to ask about the items you are using…

1. Was the item around when the Great great grand relation was supposed to have had it in their position. If Great great granny has willed you her precious wristwatch and Napoleon is still in power you have a problem. The wrist watch wasn’t invented until 1868.
2. Would they have had the means to have it and hold on to it. If your characters survived the potato famine in Ireland they are unlikely to have held on to a strand of pearls for sentimental reasons if the family is starving to death.
3. For religious reason would they have had it at all. Some religions don’t allow the collection of material items.
4. Was it found in the region that its supposed to be in. If not have you thought about how you as a writer got it to where it is now. Did a crusader bring it back from the Holy Land?
5. Is there an item that would work just as well that fits the time period. A golden quill pen for my musketeer instead of the ballpoint pen.

So we as writers must be as diligent in our research as we are in our editing. Many people won’t care, won’t notice or simply don’t give a damn about history. But many of us out there do notice and do care. Far better to double check your items twice then forever be told by readers that you had your facts wrong.

I would love to hear about some of the Historical mistakes you have come across, either in movies or while reading that stand out even now.