The Genesis of a Novel – Research – Part II

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Those that comment on my post will be eligible for a $10 Amazon Gift Certificate!  (location: New York, US)
I have written five historical fiction novels so far, and am embarking on the sixth. I thought I’d bring everyone along on my journey as I do this one.
For information on my published works, including Legacy of Truth, which was just realeased July 6, 2016, please see the links below!
This is the next installment of a series of posts I’ve been writing, following the process of writing a novel from conception through publication and beyond.
The process of writing a novel is a scary mystery to most people. Sometimes including those that actually write novels! My own process is just one of thousands of processes, but here is a peek into my mad method.
This is a series of posts on writing novels. The first part of this series is here.
As I’ve delayed the next step – actually writing out my scene list – in favor of editing a previous manuscript, I’ve given my unconscious mind some time to percolate the story. I’ve worked out a few additional conflicts to add to my 2-page synopsis. I’ve combined a couple of the conflicts so they mesh together a bit better. I’ve done lots of additional research on the time period (12th century Ireland), and realized that I’ve actually read several books set in that time period by authors whose research I respect.  Ken Follett (Pillars of the Earth), Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe), and Ellis Peters (Brother Cadfael Mysteries) have written in that time period. That gives me some ‘flavor’ of the setting and how people lived.
For some people, anything prior to modern times is ‘ancient’ and there is little differentiation between those periods. For an historian, however, or an enthusiast of historical fiction, those differences are important. For instance, a noblewoman of 17th century France would wear a completely different costume than a nobelwoman in 12th century France.


And they are VERY different from a 21st century French noblewoman.



When writing details of the time period, an author could research the different foods a character is eating (Pro tip: McDonald’s weren’t period!), clothing, the way they made their living, etc.


Speech and idiom is the hardest part. It’s a balancing act. Of course the 12th Century Irish character isn’t speaking anything resembling English. They aren’t even speaking modern Irish. They’re speaking middle Irish, and no one today outside of a few scholars would easily be able to read it. I certainly wouldn’t be able to write it. Even if it was in England, 12th century language is very different from today’s. If you doubt me, go read some Anglo-Norman works. English as a language didn’t exist – it was a proto-mix of German from the Anglo-Saxon peasants and French from the Norman nobles.


So we use mostly modern English in historical novels. But we can’t use pure modern English, as that would sound strange. Telling someone that the assassin was going to ‘pop a cap’ in his victim’s head just seems… wrong.


Most historical fiction authors sprinkle older words and phrases into modern English and try to limit the anachronisms to give a ‘flavor’ of the time. Sometimes this is easy – often it isn’t. It involves a lot of research, delving into resources such as Etymonline and historical theses.


Once you have written in a particular time period, of course, you get a feel for the language. You can just add a couple or words or phrases to your characters’ lexicon and the reader is transported to their time and place. Well, if you’ve done it well, that is.


There is always a danger of putting in TOO much flavor. Have you ever had a dish that was so heavily spiced that all you tasted was the seasoning, and not the food itself? Some writing ends up like that. Where you have to sound out the words on the page to make any sense of what was being said. I’ve seen some too-accurate Glasgow accents written this way. Or Cockney. Or deep south American. Just remember – less is more! And please don’t use phrases like “Avast ye, knavish varlet!”


Swearing is an area that is particularly difficult. A modern person swears differently than someone in the 18th century, 16th century, or the 5th century would. In the past, most swearing was religious in nature – ‘Zounds’, used liberally by Shakespeare, was short for ‘God’s Wounds’. Now, in a society less dominated by religion, we use words more related to physical body functions!


These are little things that must be kept in mind as you are writing your manuscript. Little but important. A glaring anachronism can push a reader right out of the story, and their suspense of disbelief shattered. Often small discrepancies can be forgiven (like rose madder being used to dye cloth in the 12th century when it didn’t become popular until the 13th). These are details only a historian or pedant will care about. Others, not so much (like horned helmets on Vikings). Don’t make your 12th century character a Baptist.


More parts:



I write historical fantasy novels, mostly set in Ireland, and a contemporary romance based on my parents’ 30-year search for true love. Don’t miss information on Celtic myth and history, as well as practical travel planning tips, and hidden places, in my travel books.

More info at Green Dragon Artist :: Home ,

Christy Jackson Nicholas, Author , and

Tirgearr Publishing – Christy Nicholas

Green Dragon Artist Blog

Celtic Fairies, Fables, and Folklore! Bestselling author (top #100 Amazon Canada, #1 in Paranormal Fantasy, Amazon Canada) Christy Nicholas, also known as Green Dragon, is an author, artist and accountant. After she failed to become an airline pilot, she quit her ceaseless pursuit of careers that begin with 'A', and decided to concentrate on her writing. Since she has Project Completion Disorder, she is one of the few authors with NO unfinished novels. Christy has her hands in many crafts, including digital art, beaded jewelry, writing, and photography. In real life, she's a CPA, but having grown up with art all around her (her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother are/were all artists), it sort of infected her, as it were. She wants to expose the incredible beauty in this world, hidden beneath the everyday grime of familiarity and habit, and share it with others. She uses characters out of time and places infused with magic and myth. Combine this love of beauty with a bit of financial sense and you get an art business. She does local art and craft shows, as well as sending her art to various science fiction conventions throughout the country and abroad. Facebook: Homepage: Blog: Twitter:

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Posted in History, Writing
151 comments on “The Genesis of a Novel – Research – Part II
  1. Linda Mims says:

    Hi Christy! Sorry I’m late to the party, but I’m glad I came. You make a lot of good points here. I’ve seen mistakes such as the ones you describe in historical fiction. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. As you say, the author didn’t research the period. Great blog! Hope you had a great Party!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Miranda L. says:

    These novels seem very interesting! Great blog post!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kimwrtr says:

    Interesting. I love everything Irish. I have a book idea that leads back to an old Irish Witch’s curse. It’s a time travel. The heroine has to travel back to (haven’t decided on the year) to fix the present. I had the idea many years ago and have yet to begin it but have a synopsis I wrote so I wouldn’t forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. beemweeks says:

    An eye for detail is vital when writing historical fiction. A story will reflect the research if the author puts in the time. Those are the best stories. A fantastic post, Christy.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Stopping by on the blog tour a tad late. I love how you explained the differences in history for those who view all things ancient and know little more than that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing your process–it’s amazing how differently we all approach our writing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. apboustead says:

    Realy good advice
    Thank you
    To afrade of getting it wrong to try sorryr

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for taking the time to share your writing process with us. It’s a wonderful look at the “how to” of writing a book!

    You have a very nice blog!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Congratulations to STACI TROILO, the winner of a $10 Amazon gift card! Staci, please let me know what email you would like me to send the gift to 😀 You can email me at if you prefer. And thank you for being part of this!


  10. Shirley Harris-Slaughter says:

    I must have came in and out of this tour because I didn’t leave a comment, at least I didn’t see it. I remember reading the post but don’t know what happened. Anyway I’m here now. Better late than never.

    Liked by 1 person

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