Writing Historical Fiction – My Process

This week the Debs are writing about technology. What do we use to help our writing, what couldn’t we live without? What do we love and hate about technology? How do we use social media? Do we stress over it?

I have written a zillion articles on social media since I work in community and social media for my day job, so I’m going to skip that and talk about the tools that help me write and research. Researching a historical fiction novel is a lot of work. After writing one, I understand why writers tend to stay with one time period in subsequent novels. Not only is it likely that in doing the research a million new ideas were spawned, but the research itself can be all-consuming and switching to another era means starting the process all over again. When I wrote FEAST OF SORROW I spent a good five months or so sucking down everything I could about ancient Rome. I immersed myself, reading only books about the era, from ancient and modern authors alike. I kept a notebook but I also had a wide variety of other tools that I used to keep track of all the information.  And over the next three years that I wrote the book I kept learning and adding to that data repository.

Now I’m back at it working on my novel THE SECRET CHEF and am deep in the throes of organizing information. Here’s my process, in case it is useful for others:

  • The notebook: I hand write a lot of notes, mostly from library books. I love Miquelrius for the paper and the soft leather covers (red all the way!).
  • Scrivener: I love Scrivener (I use the Windows version) for writing. I also keep some of my digital research in the program, especially photos where I can. Since much of it is historical, the photos are primarily paintings, sculpture, drawings of houses, architecture, etc.  I keep all this data in separate folders for each topic. Of course, my own photos end up in these files as well. I have to admit though, when I spent a couple of years using a Chromebook and couldn’t install Scrivener I became rather used to using…
  • Google Drive. If you have a Gmail account you already have access to Drive. Drive is great to store all sorts of information ranging from photos, presentations, .pdfs, even executable files. It also has a software suite built in that has the ability to create documents, worksheets, slide presentations, forms and even drawings. While it doesn’t have the massive functionality of Microsoft Office, it’s beginning to give it a run for its money. It turns out that writing a novel in Drive is just fine. I use Evernote for my notes and Drive for all my documents. You can also use Drive offline. At minimum, consider it for a great, free/inexpensive way to backup all your files to the Cloud.

  • Evernote: This is the best tool for clipping web information, I’ve found. Much of this clipped info ends up in Scrivener later, but for being able to quickly save, tag and access info, it’s the best out there. If you write offline but want to save your notes online, you can take advantage of the Evernote Moleskine notebooks which allow you to take snapshots of your notes for easy access and filing within Evernote. I keep research notes, travel planning, and a boatload of recipes in mine.

  • Pocket. Pocket is an easy-to-use online bookmarking/clipping site. While you can also employ Evernote to manage Web clippings, Pocket is very clean, visually appealing and far more simple to use. I tend to use Pocket to save things that I want to read later and Evernote for items I want to save indefinitely.
  • AutoCrit: This service is truly incredible when it comes to helping you self-edit. I did an entire review of this over on the Grub Blog, but in short, it’s a must have for a writer’s arsenal, IMHO.

Of course, the main things that you need when it comes to research is time and curiosity. I don’t have a ton of the former, but I’ve got a lot of the latter!

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Crystal King is a writer, culinary enthusiast and social media expert. Her writing is fueled by a love of history and an obsession with the food, language and culture of Italy. She has taught writing, creativity and social media at Grub Street and several universities including Harvard Extension School and Boston University. Crystal received her masters in critical and creative thinking from University of Massachusetts Boston. She lives with her husband and their two cats in the Boston area.

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