How Much Research to Use in Historical Fiction & How Shakespearean Acting Can Help

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Much-Ado-About-Jack_by_Christy-English

© Christy English

Fred E. Whyte

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

How has Shakespearean acting helped you with your historical writing?

CE—Characters I play onstage and the characters I write about in my novels come from the same source. There is a place in my subconscious where all these people live, ready to tell their stories. They don’t seem to care which audience I choose, but I do have to choose. I have tried to work on a book while performing in a production, and I can never do both at once. Whether on stage or on the page, my characters are jealous friends. 

How much time do you spend researching the time periods for your books?

CE—Research is a huge aspect of writing historical fiction, so for The Queen’s Pawn and To Be Queen, I spent a lot of time looking into the courts of King Henry II of England and King Louis VII of France. When I’m writing my Regency romances, I don’t do much research at all. Beyond the basics of the time period, featuring the Prince Regent as a minor character for example, I stick to the completely made-up world of my lovers and their trials. There are no Luddites attacking mills in my books, no homeless veterans home from the Napoleonic wars. All of my characters are rich, beautiful, and wear gorgeous clothes. I like to say that my romances are set in Regency Disneyland.

How do you decide which factual details to include and which to leave out?

CE—My characters and the stories they tell make this decision for me. There is too much information in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s life to include even a third of it in any novel. I always had to pick and choose which facts made the cut, and the way I did that was to look at the direction the story was going, and where Eleanor and I wanted it to end up. If a fact does not further the plot, out it goes.

Do you ever find yourself discovering a really juicy nugget of historical fact and reworking your scene or character to incorporate it?

CE—I love this question! When I was researching To Be Queen: A Novel of the Early Life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, I was looking into all the years it took Eleanor of Aquitaine, then Queen of France, to divorce (annul her marriage) to her first husband, King Louis VII. As I read about her quest, I discovered that when she went to the pope in Rome in person to ask for an annulment, he listened to her carefully and then to her husband, and instead of granting her request, he went to all the trouble of re-marrying them himself, and putting them to consummate their “new” union in his bed of state. What a scene! We fiction writers just can’t make this stuff up. So much fact is truly stranger than anything we can think of on our own.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 5, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for hosting me, Fred. I had a blast!

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