Historical novel readers can be among the toughest around. Not only do they crave a great story, they insist on having all the historical details absolutely correct for their chosen time period. If you're an author with a series set in the past, how do you get that special period flavor in your work? Here are some unique research methods to get yourself and your writing into that historical groove.
1. Read Items Written in Your Era
Avoid modern works set in your ancient times; that's another interpretation of days gone by. Instead, search the Gutenberg Project or Google Books for out-of-print items written in your time period. You'll get more of the current attitude for your characters.
2. Listen to Your Characters' Background Music
What kind of music was the everyday sound in your time period? Use these antique tunes to get you in the mood.
3. Watch Vintage Movies
If your work is set in the recent past, watch movies made in that time. Silent movies can be a gold mine of background details such as home furnishings, daily clothing, transportation, mannerisms, and meals. Even facial expressions and modes of expression were different in the past, and films can give you clues to them.
4. Find Old Ephemera
Search your attic, local museums, and even online sources like eBay or Pinterest for the throwaway paper from your past era. What was on the typical diner menu, store receipt, or friendly letter from the past? Look for old newspaper clippings, recipe books, and even bills to find out how the average person lived back then.
5. Follow the Journalists
Old newspapers are a treasure trove of details about how people lived in the past. Not only will you find articles about happenings in local towns and big cities, you can see advertising for goods and services, plus want ads and advice columns that give a peek into the daily lives of people in your era.
6. How-To Manuals
What did people in your era look for when it comes to instructions? Check out pamphlets on farming, cooking, child raising, and even sex or marital issues to get an idea of where your characters' minds were at.
7. Living History
If you're setting your book sometime in the past century, there's a chance that you can find someone who actually lived during that time. Search out senior centers and ask older residents if you can interview them. If you can't find anyone living near you, check for oral histories online on YouTube.
8. Check Old Catalogs
Old catalogs can be a great resource for details about every day life. If you need more information on how your characters dressed, ate, lived, and decorated their environment, an old general catalog will have tons of suggestions inside.
9. Genealogy Sites
Ancestry.com and other genealogy sites are filled with detailed information about neighborhoods, service records, hospital records, and a wealth of other information on day-to-day life. If you're looking for a background flavor for your setting, you'll find a lot to work with here.
If your characters have a specialized occupation, look for manuals and textbooks that contain contemporary knowledge that your character would have. Doctors from the 1920's wouldn't know nearly as much as those living today. Find out your characters' limitations by learning what they would learn.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!