Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

If you are new at writing historical fiction, research tips by historical fiction authors. Besides giving practical advice, often authors will share a personal experience of their own research. For example, Elizabeth Pye visited France multiple times, and some of her experiences are included in this blog post.

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Also in this blog post, you will see snippets from Pye’s interview on research as well as specific sites she visited in France. In case you plan to take a trip to Paris, Pye gives details about places to visit while in Paris. Be sure to click on the additional blog post titles of her travels listed at the bottom of this page.

In addition, you’ll find other titles below of topics on historical fiction writing, writing with five senses, and naming characters. But first, check out this handy research list you can use for your own research process:

​Research List

For a starting point, write down a list of research ideas as shown below. As you do a lot of research, however, categorize your research list into an outline.For example, write down the first one on the list, local library.

Next, specify the first topic you will research such as best books by historical fiction authors. Secondly, perhaps you will write down actual events during the historical time period you’re writing about. Then proceed to old maps which can also be the next category under local libary as well as listed under university libraries.

Of course, feel free to make your own list. As you will notice, thie following research list does not follow any certain order. Therefore, you’ll want to categorize your outline in the order that works best for you.

  • local library
  • old maps
  • history book
  • historical societies
  • digital archives
  • research papers
  • local museums
  • original documents
  • Google Earth
  • university libraries

This above list may seem simple and unnecessary. However, staying organized during your research project will eliminate going down a research rabbit hole.

Visit the Place of Your Novel’s Setting

Visit the place of your novel’s setting because this is the best way to walk in your character’s shoes. You will experience real feelings as well through the five senses as you walk the streets of your setting’s vicinity.

Besides using primary and secondary resources for Silk or Sugar, Pye also visited the site of the novel’s settingPye expresses how it felt to visit France, the setting of her novel. Janine de Fleury’s escape from the Reign of Terror in the book, Silk or Sugar, gives you an idea of what the victims must have endured.

“When I walk past the Place de la Concorde, the Parisian site of the guillotine during the French Revolution, the unthinkable horror of its history is like a dark cloud carried along on a cold winter wind.”

research for historical novels
​ Elizabeth Pye, Author of Silk or Sugar

Elizabeth Pye Interview on Research


This section includes a snippet from Elizabeth Pye’s interview on research:

Angie: “What is included in your research, or how do you go about research for your books?”

Elizabeth: “I get a lot of books that I add to my library on the topic for one thing. I buy used books on Amazon or other booksellers, and I did that especially earlier on in my research. Now some of the antiquarian book dealers are pretty well cleaned out, so I find that is not as much of an option. So I now am doing more research online.

‘When I’m going to write about a specific place, I go online and read about it and print off things and have them available, the ones that really seem to apply. I try to get a feeling of actually being there and walking through it.

‘I have been very fortunate in that I have been able to travel to France several different times. As my readers will know, I write about the Loire Valley and Paris primarily. I went to both of those places and spent a lot of time and wore out a pair of shoes or more going to the places that I’m writing about.”

Cathedral of Tours, Saint Gatien’s Cathedral, France

Elizabeth: “The Cathedral of Tours, Saint Gatien’s Cathedral fascinates me. It’s such beautiful architecture, the old stained glass windows and the setting around it and the archbishop’s house, all those things and the garden outside. There were some old, I guess they were stables at one time that are on the side of the Archbishop’s palace that is now the Museum, Beaux Arts Museum. I may incorporate that into my story. It just is so fascinating because it’s run down, and you just feel all that history, so I’m planning on trying to work that into my Return to Chateau Fleury story. Some things are going to be found that have been hidden there since the French Revolution.”

Angie: “When you went on your trips over there, in the gardens, did you feel at home? Because you have gorgeous rose bushes and other kinds of flowers here.”

Elizabeth: “Oh, I felt very much at home, and I loved them. I got lots of pictures of them. I had a very interesting experience inside the Cathedral, though. My husband and I were in there, just sitting. It was about early afternoon. There wasn’t anybody in sight. Maybe somebody was in the back rooms. I don’t know. But all of a sudden there was a beautiful female voice singing. And I was sitting there like I was in an altered state, I think. It was just beautiful music.”

Angie: “Did your husband hear it also?”

“He didn’t. But I think being right on site of what you’re writing about can bring up all kinds of feelings and experiences. Reading about it in a book is good if you can’t get to the sights.”

Pye conveys her feelings of visiting the actual site as gems. She adds, “You have a sense of the space around you, and you’re not going to misinterpret that.”

Château de Chenonceau, France

Pye describes her visit to the Château de Chenonceau, the chateau where she and her husband stayed. She used its basic floor plan idea for Chateau Fleury in the second novel of The French Connection. Inspired by the chateau, Pye toured the Château de Chenonceau which she “really paid a lot of attention to.”

“The Château de Chenonceau is located in Loire Valley, and it’s very famous,” Pye adds. “I think it’s called the Lady’s Chateau. It’s beautiful. In the time of royalty, the women all wanted possession of that chateau.

‘So Chenonceau, when I first started writing, was my model. But when we spent the night and visited Chateau Sept Tours, I went ahead and got pictures there. It’s a composite of the two really, Chateau Fleury that is.”

A common place for tourists, Chenonceau is located about an hour and a half from Paris.

More Tips on How to Write Historical Fiction

If you want to see see more tips on how to write historical fiction or order Elizabeth Pye’s novels, click on the articles or links below. To order one of her French Connection novels, click on the links at the bottom of the page.

Historical Fiction Writing

Watch Elizabeth’s other videos on historical fiction writing, and find out from her perspective why authors write historical fiction.

Writing with Five Senses

This topics in “How Seasons and Nature Affect How Authors Write” include writing with the five senses and writing in different seasons and about nature.

Naming Characters

Learn more about naming characters in the “Historical Fiction: Choosing Characters’ Names & Topics” article.

You can order Elizabeth Pye’s Silk or Sugar, Return to Chateau Fleury, and  Mon Amour, Friend or Foe on Amazon.

2 thoughts on “Research Tips for Writing Historical Fiction

  1. Enjoyed Elizabeth Pye’s Silk or Sugar immensely. One can tell she does extensive research, but rather than it getting in the way of the story, it is beautifully woven in.

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