Today, I have a guest blog from Briana Vedsted a young author who is working on getting her first officially published. Her book is a Western entitled ‘Me and Billy the Kid’ and she has done a lot of research for this. I asked her to write a guest blog about how important research is when writing historical fiction and if she had any advice for aspiring authors that want to write in this genre. Without further ado . . . wait . . . Cover Reveal for her:
Check out her blog and follow her journey to getting a book on the shelves. Enjoy the Guest Blog:
Westerns seem to require a lot of research. How important would you say research is when writing something that has a historical basis?
I’d say that research is a very critical step. Even if you only do some light topographical or geographical research. For example, no one wants to read a novel (even if it is fictitious) about Colorado in the 1700s and hear how the main character was in awe of the beautiful palm trees and fifty-foot-tall saguaro cacti. There are no palm trees or saguaro cactus in Colorado.
And if you’re going to be writing a historical fiction, the majority of your facts must be accurate. If you’re writing about real people, i.e. Billy the Kid, Robert E. Lee, or Sacajawea; some things to pay attention to are dates. If you’re writing about the Civil War, you want to make sure you have the correct dates, locations, and battle names. Nothing is more embarrassing than to state that the Battle of James Island occurred in the dead of winter, only to have a reader point out that particular battle happened in June.
Keeping things like eye color, hair color, and physical features the same are less important. That is the beauty of writing. You can make an uncommonly unattractive person be the dashing, daring hero of your book. But again, it just depends on how true you want your book to be. The best example I can give occurs in my book, Me and Billy the Kid. Some argue that Billy the Kid was a rather homely looking fellow. Yet in my novel, I describe him as a good-looking youth.
What suggestions would you give an aspiring author who is looking to write in the Western genre or any genre that occurs in a historical period? Do you have a system?
The best suggestion I can give, if it’s an option, is to visit the location you’ll be writing about. Perhaps there is a museum dedicated to the person you’re writing about, or the history of the state/county. That way, you might learn something that no history book or website can tell you. Take notes and pictures, if possible. If not, make mental notes.
For years I’d wanted to write a book about Billy the Kid, but until I took a trip to Lincoln County, New Mexico, I didn’t even know where to begin. But walking where Billy had once walked, standing in the courthouse that had once been his jail cell, seeing the hole in the wall left from a bullet he fired, and entering the store that was owned by Billy’s friend and employer, I was motivated to begin writing.
Then I turned to my best friend: the World Wide Web. The information I was missing or had forgotten was found on various websites that helped me get a better picture of who Billy was, how his friends saw him, and where his bad reputation came from.
Westerns are a fun to write if you’re familiar with the genre. Writing about horse riding, cattle drives, and cowboys comes easily to me, because that’s the way I live: on a working ranch. So I have a nearly constant stream of inspiration for new westerns. There are things I don’t know about, and that’s why I read. One can never read enough. If you want to write about a book on a certain subject, you should read all the other books about the same topic(s). There are magazine articles, novels, museums, encyclopedia passages, websites, and probably movies about the subject you’re interested in. The more knowledgeable you are, the more believable your book will be. So to all of you who are writing historical books from any time period, I wish you luck!