For someone who has practically made a career of university education, I should be really good at research. Sadly, I am not good at it. I can do it, but I find it boring. Short attention span, and all that.
Some people enjoy the treasure hunt of going to the library. They love the smell of the old-books stacks, and they get a rush from narrowing a search down to a few resources they can pore over at the antique-lamp-lit desks. That ain’t me.
I would rather be here
(Library photo b Sarah Brabazon, WANA Commons)
If I can’t access it online or on my Kindle, I’m probably not going to read it. That’s one of about a million reasons why I squirm when anyone tells me my time-travel romances remind them of Outlander. Diana Gabaldon is a genius at research. She nails her details and creates a world so engrossing and realistic I feel like I’m right there with her characters when I read her.
That ain’t me.
History enthusiasts probably cringe when reading my romances. That said, I do aim to achieve a reasonable representation of historic setting. How, you ask, if I equate research with watching paint dry?
I’ve managed to find some fun, easy resources with pretty colors and short sentences. I thought I’d share a few of my favorite resources here. Maybe you’ll find them entertaining. Maybe you’ll find them useful.
Let’s Play the Name Game
Choosing names for a character is one of my favorite pastimes. There are a few go-to sites I always check when I’m choosing names.
This site is great for researching names from any nationality you can think of. You can sort names by gender, alphabetical listing, popularity, and a bunch of other tools. You can even search by meaning. One time I wanted an ancient Celtic name for a character, and I wanted the name to mean Darkness. I found it! Duff. Okay, so it’s also the name of the cheesy beer brand on the Simpsons. The point is, I found a name that fit my criteria.
My historical writing takes place in the Scottish Highlands. This site is AMAZING for period research, not just for names but for other stuff too. I highly recommend it as a jumping off point for anyone interested in Scottish history.
This site, and many others like it, are great for gleaning names if you’re researching the eighteenth century or beyond. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot on here for the sixteenth century, when my Highlander books are set. My interpretation = literary license!
Which brings me to my fourth resource for character naming…
- Literary License
Sometimes, I base a name not on any list or on explicit research but on who the character is, who his or her parents were, what their history was, and what things might have been important to them.
For example, when I chose Darcy Keith’s name (he’s my first Highlander hero, and you can find him in Wishing for a Highlander), I imagined his parents as belonging to the wealthier set in his clan. They were close family with the laird, and they valued education and fashion. They chose the name Darcy because it’s a French name (D’Arcy, or from the French region of Arcy), and anything from France was in vogue at the time. Plus, the name makes me smile because of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice.
Word Word Word Word is the Bird
(complete with link to the song, because it makes me smile)
Aka, Etymology Resources.
How do I know what words were used back then? Simple. If I’m writing and a word I use seems modern to me, I plug it into the Online Etymology Index to see if it was in use during the time period I’m writing. A small caveat here: Etymology tracks when a word was first used in writing. Sometimes, I like to pretend that a word that first appeared in writing in 1650 could possibly have been in use verbally fifty years previously. Also, literary license!
Some other great etymology tools include
- The Word and Phrase Origin website
- This neat list of antique words and their modern-day equivalent
- The Scriptorium, a database of all things Middle Ages, including common words
Scottish History For Dummies
(Or if you want a less pejorative title, For the Short-Attention-Span Romance Writer)
Yes, there is a link for Scottish History For Dummies, but I haven’t actually visited (except to Google it and provide the link here)
But I found a site that has a great, consolidated timeline of Scottish history, and I love just sitting and reading sections of it. I’ve learned so much about the time period I write in from perusing this site.
What Life was Like
This list of resources is my favorite! This kind of research is where I light up. Learning about the lifestyles of period peoples fascinates me more than knowing who was King and what legislation Parliament was trying to pass.
In no particular order, here’s a list of sites I have visited in my research
- Diseases on Death Certificates
- Costume and Fashion Resource Guide
- Daily Life in the Middle Ages
- Life in a Medieval City
Actual Books I’ve read
Lest you think I’m allergic to actual books, here’s a few resources I’ve found entertaining and informative:
- Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A writer’s (and Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, and Myths by Susanne Alleyn
- Food in Medieval Times by Melitta Weiss Adamson
- I even checked a Scottish History book out of the library once. I forget what it was called, but it had awesome pictures!
Research might not be my gig, but I find ways to make it palatable. It helps that I take my writing seriously. It’s always a goal to make my settings and characters as believable as I possibly can. It’s always worth the time I took to read an article or look into an aspect of the past when I get a note from a reader saying how much they enjoyed one of my time-travel romances.
What kind of researcher are you? Do you prefer timelines with lots of pictures or can you immerse yourself in a detailed history text? What kinds of historical research do you find fascinating?
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment below!
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