The Genesis of a Novel – Research – Part II

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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. Hi Christy! Thank you for the fascinating inside look at the balancing act required in writing historical fiction! I love the art in your banner and your cover art; did you do your own covers? Beautiful, regardless; great choices! 🙂 Congratulations on your new release, enjoy your day in the spotlight here, take care, and have a wonderful week! 🙂 ~Stephanie

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Lori Soard says:

    Hi Christy, Thanks so much for sharing info on 12th Century Ireland. I love learning little slices of history. I also loved reading about how you pay attention to all those little details. Your books sound amazing. Good luck with your block party stop today!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Soooz says:

    Thank you for the time and thought you put into your post. This is an genre I haven’t read a great deal. The amount of research you undertake shines clearly through you post, and the love you have for the Genre is very apparent. Such an enjoyable read. “Zounds!”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. […] Green Dragon, Author and Artist/Christy Nicholas […]

    Liked by 2 people

  5. tracey clark says:

    thanks for sharing your writing process… loved reading it

    Liked by 2 people

  6. D.L. Finn says:

    Hi Christy. I enjoyed your blog post. The example of how they dressed as well as spoke in times past was very interesting. I added one of your books to my kindle. I always loved a good historical fiction book. Thanks for sharing all this great information on the blog tour!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Wendy Scott says:

    Hello Green Dragon,
    I’m a quarter Scottish (thanks to my grandfather) and I was so taken my your book on Scotland (loved the photos, too) – I just had to buy it right now. In the next couple of years I’m planning on a family pilgrimage to Scotland plus book researching in England so this book is perfect. Enjoyed your blog about your historical writing process.
    Best Wishes,

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Beth Hae says:

    I enjoyed this post. I love historical fiction and will definitely be checking out your work. I applaud you for your diligence in getting the historical details right. While I love to read HF, I absolutely do not have the patience to research and write it. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Maria Karamintzou says:

    Thank you so much for this chance! ! Historical Fantasy Romances are magical!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Dear Christy, You have a very interesting blog and I particularly liked the extras you’ve given as far as research into speech and dress from different eras is concerned. All these little bits and pieces make reading historical novels such a pleasure – one of my favourite genres. 🙂 My next stop is your author page. All the best for today’s blog tour.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Dear Christy, I’ve left a comment on another site. So to be on the safe side, especially for today, the 2nd of August, I’ll add another just to say that I love historical fiction and appreciate from your comments just how much research goes into making the imaginative real. All the best with the blog party today.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. harmonykentonline says:

    Christy, this is an awesome post on writing historical fiction. Thank you so much for sharing. I agree wholeheartedly about not using too-modern English in historical books, as it rings so wrong! I’m off to check out your books now, and you certainly have me intrigued. Very best of luck with all your writing endeavours, and I hope you enjoy the block party! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Fascinating post, Christy! I hope you get lots of visitors today!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Great to learn more about you and your writing process. Five novels so far! That’s wonderful. I look forward to checking them out and I’m sure they will be riveting reads. Thank you for hosting the party today.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Gwen Plano says:

    Christy, thank you for describing your process for writing historical fiction. As a person who loves research, I am fascinated by your approach. All the best for your Blog Party today!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. I think historical fiction would be a difficult genre to write, at least for me. I have enough trouble getting present day scenes right! Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Christy, you are a very talented woman and artist.Writing historical fiction I believe is one of the most challenging areas to write because one has a lot of research to do. Clothing, language, culture, food, etc. are integral to making the story believable and accurate.
    Thank you for a most interesting blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Craig says:

    Interesting look at the effort that goes into historical fiction. Thanks for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Joe Stephens says:

    I have great respect for the work ethic of people who write historical fiction. I do as much research as I can stand and I write contemporary stories! It sounds like you really do your homework. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Susan Joyce says:

    Thanks for your valuable insight on writing historical fiction. Love the bit about unique swearing. So many details to perfect. Good luck with your many projects!

    Liked by 1 person

    • There ARE times when I write a sentence, stop to research, write another, stop to research, write another, stop to research. Sometimes it is frustrating. But eventually I can get past the doorstops and I’ve learned a LOT along the way. I’m an eternal student, so learning is always fun.


  21. Mo Underwood says:

    So much detail going into the process- and I don’t know who said it, but for me the best part of writing has always been when I’ve written it! Good luck with the blog tour, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Great post! Writing other languages is so difficult. One of my characters spoke pigeon and it was a challenge to write it in a way readers could understand. Have fun with the block party.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Mae Clair says:

    I’ve read a number of historical novels and, as a reader, I am always impressed when an author takes the time for research and places me in the era through dialogue and narrative. I have, however, read a few where the accent was overdone (Scottish brogue is an example that comes to mind). You obviously have a passion for what you do. This was a fabulous post!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. jinlobify says:

    This blog party is taking on an extraordinary shape, one blog after another, growing and expanding. Hi Nicholas, it is always a pleasure to read and learn something new from you. I am a fan of your writing, having read more that two of your books.The quality of your writing shows how thorough you research before writing. Well done. :).

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Staci Troilo says:

    Great post. I read historical novels, and I’ve even edited a few, but it’s not a challenge I’ve ever wanted to undertake. The periods are fascinating, but getting all the details right is daunting to me. Kudos to you for mastering it!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Nice post. Writing historical novels gets even trickier when you go so far back that their weren’t written records of how people spoke or lived.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. PHS says:

    Thanks for the post on the block party stop today, Christy. I think this is much the same for fantasy. Try to get as much into the story according to what is necessary for emphasis and then season lightly with other details.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I am in awe of you, Christy. I suck at all things historical. Seriously! My worst subject in school was History because I could never remember names and dates and events. My own novels have characters with backgrounds that go back to the beginning of time. I was able to rewrite history to include my characters, so that made it a little bit easier for me. Still, many of them spend time recalling their early years in the 1600s, so I had to do a little research for it. It drove me crazy. lol! I kept their memories very vague so as not to anger any history fanatics because I knew that if I tried to go into too much details, I would butcher it badly. Thank you for sharing your process with us. Historical fiction is definitely not my thing, but I am in complete awe of those who have the ability (and the talent) to take readers back to those times. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Jan Hawke says:

    I got lost on your beautiful site, Christy! ❤ Wonderful artwork, photography and jewellery and obviously a deep-seated love of Ireland's history and Irish myth – your goddesses are beautiful, even the bloody Morrigan!
    If you're writing anything based on historical fact then, as you say, meticulous research is key to get the 'look and feel' of the period right, even if you're weaving in some fantasy in there as well, so your words work in that era. I love Ellis Peters' Cadfael series for that reason, with its bleak period setting on the cusp of Norman and Angevin rule.
    Have just got my copy of Legacy of Hunger – that period of Irish history during The Famine is one I've always been interested in 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  30. joannwentzel says:

    Thanks for the enlightenment into the world you write for your readers. Meticulous research is what makes history come to life for us.Will be sure to look into your books when my life settles down a bit. Nice blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Historical fiction is a genre I was hooked on in high school as I nurtured my growing passion for History. No surprise, I became a history teacher! You have some very interesting insights into the writing of historical fiction, Christy! Great post! Have a super day!

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Your post shows the importance of research in any story.Period food and drink as well as clothing is important no matter what period we chose. Thanks Christy

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Rhani D'Chae says:

    What an interesting post! I have often thought about writing a historical novel, but the required research is daunting, especially now that reading is so difficult. But I love a good historical novel, so I will be checking out your books as soon as I finish the ones I am currently reading. I hope that you have a lot of fun during your stop on the tour. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Lincoln Cole says:

    Awesome stuff! I love historical novels, but I don’t like researching things enough to want to write my own! I’ll definitely check your books out and I’m super glad to see your post on this tour!

    Thanks so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Christy~

    Being a history buff and written of a non-fiction book I enjoyed the description of your research process.


    Richie Gerber

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Shirley Harris-Slaughter says:

    Well, Christy, you explained it and I’m still in a brain fog. But it was interesting to have you tell it and give us something to think about. You do have to be authentic with your time period or an amateur will sniff you out and/or be turned off. We are always learning on these tours. It all takes talent and I’m amazed at the authors I have met and the genre’s I’m starting to read in this club. The written word is fascinating. Congrats on an unusual topic!

    Liked by 1 person

  37. Julie Hall says:

    Interesting insight into your writing process Christy!

    Liked by 1 person

  38. Janelle Jalbert says:

    Loved the behind the scenes peek into what it takes to put a novel together that is rooted in history. Though it many be based in truth, recreating a time and place is as intense as creating a fantasy world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed. Since none of us lived in, say, the 12th century (unless we’ve Dr. Who around? No? OK, then.) it really IS a fantasy world – just one with much of the parameters already created. And each historical author must decide which parameters he or she adheres to.


  39. Hi Christy! Thanks very much for the insight into your writing process. It just illustrates how different each writer is and how many unique ways there are to tell a story. I’ve always enjoyed historical fiction, it’s a very good way to interest young (and not so young) minds in the doings of societies and cultures from long ago. I’ve read a good deal of fictional tales set in both historical and prehistorical times, one of the best in this genre is as you mention Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ – one of my favorites.
    Good luck with the book and great job on day two of the RRBC Back to School Book Blog Tour – Best regards, MikeL

    Liked by 1 person

  40. travlindog says:

    Hi Christy, great Blog. Thanks for hosting “RRBC Back to School Book & Blog Block Party!”
    Your research on the period must have taken many hours.I am compelled to read your work as I am a history buff. I know how long and how much work writing is as I am married to the awesome writer Jo Ann Wentzel who will also host for the block party later this month.

    Thanks again

    Liked by 2 people

  41. Love the idea of writing a romance based on your parents’ story!

    Liked by 1 person

  42. D.E.Howard says:

    Great post – an interesting insight into historical fiction – it really must take some work to get it to sound “just right”

    Liked by 1 person

  43. That was a great introduction to the intricacies of writing a historical novel! It hadn’t really occurred to me just how much the language has changed, even after reading the entire Brother Cadfael Mysteries series 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  44. Hi, Christy! Wow…you’re such a talented artist. Thank you for this little trip back in time. 🙂 Congrats on your recent release! That’s always an exciting time for sure.
    I had a peek at your jewelry and photography; absolutely beautiful. Do you design your book covers? They are captivating!
    Hope you’re having an awesome day. The Block Party is off to a fantastic start!
    Glad to find your Facebook page as well. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

  45. Jo Pilsworth says:

    Thanks for the insight into writing a historical novel. The note about swearing amused me in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

  46. S.j. Francis says:

    Always had an interest in Celtic mysteries and myth. I’ll have to add your books to my TBR list. Thanks for such an informative, well illustrated post.

    Liked by 1 person

  47. Nice insight into your writing process. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  48. Micki Peluso says:

    Nice meeting you Christy. Historical romance taking place in Ireland, England and Scotland are favorites of mine. I like the way you described dealing with the ancient languages. Some writers, like Diana Gababden will put in a few lines here and there of the old language in her Outlander series but then switch to more modern English.Your books sound excellent. I hope to be able to get to read them.

    Liked by 1 person

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