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Research Process

 When writing historical fiction, it can be overwhelming with the never ending wealth of information to sort through and apply to your story. I don’t claim to be an expert on researching, but I’ll share what’s helped me and hopefully it will help any of you historical fiction authors out there!

Let’s start at the beginning.

After I pick a time period to write about, I start reading fiction and non-fiction books about it. I get books from the library, but I also love buying used books on Amazon so I can highlight in them. I organized my writing bookshelf so that all my Civil War books were together and easy to access while writing.

I also do a ton of research on the internet and bookmark pages like crazy. Since I was writing about the Civil War, I searched videos on how to load a musket and on Civil War drilling. I also used civilwar.org and they have an amazing animated map of Gettysburg which helped immensely. I printed out articles, highlighted the sections I needed in them, then stuck them in my research binder.

Research binders are wonderful. It makes the writing/editing process much less stressful. I divided the information with little tabs labeled with things like, Camp Curtin, Drills, 11th PA, Army Life, and Enlistment/Rally. I scanned and printed pages out of books, printed internet articles, made (somewhat) organized notes, and highlighted certain passages. It's made life a whole lot easier.

I found all the names of the guys who served in Company I, 11th PA. I used some of these names to create characters. For instance, Joe has three good friends in It Took War. One of them is Oliver Willyard. According to this list of names there was a David Willyard, but I liked the name Oliver better for this particular character. The others were Will and Johnny Story. Those were actual names of guys who were in Company I. I have no idea if they were related, but in my book I made them brothers.

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Pinterest. It’s awesome. I didn't use it much for It Took a War while writing, but I've been using it for my next book and it’s great for collecting old pictures and quotes. If you don’t have Pinterest, you can create a private blog to collect all your character pictures, inspirational writing quotes, plot ideas, website links, etc. That’s what I did with It Took a War.

If possible, go to the place you’re writing about. But this isn't a must. I’m blessed that my sister lives near Gettysburg, so I've been there many times to research for my book. If you can’t get to the place you’re writing about (my next book takes place in Germany...I really want to go there, but I’m not sure it’s a possibility in the next year or so) take a virtual tour. Look up pictures, watch videos, make authentic food, listen to music, and ask others who have been there what it’s like. 

Listen to music from the time period you’re writing about. I bought about every single Civil War era song available on itunes (maybe I’m being a little dramatic). I listened to them while washing dishes, while cleaning the house, while working out, while in the car, while writing, etc. They brought the Civil War more alive for me when I was listening to songs soldiers would sing on the march, at rallies, or at camp.

Don’t stress. If you’re writing historical fiction, remember that it’s fiction. Of course you want your book to be historically accurate, but don’t let the research process stifle your creativity. Research, but then stop and just write. Have fun with it! You want your love of history to shine through and spark that interest in someone else.

If you're a writer, what's your research process like?


This blogpost was first published on A Northern Belle on December 15th, 2014


  1. This was great, absolutely great. Historical Fiction is no pie making party. However, no matter how hard and monotonous it is, there is always fascinating things to learn and stories to be inspired by. My process is similar to yours, just not quite as... organized.

    1. Thanks, Susanna!! Yes, there's always fascinating things to learn! I love research...but it's hard to know when to stop! Thanks for commenting!

  2. This is incredibly helpful. I'm currently writing a fairy tale retelling, but I hope to write a historical fiction novel in the near future. I actually used Spotify to create a for my story. Spotify is currently one of my favorite things ever. XD

    1. I'm glad this was helpful!! Oooh a fairy tale retelling sounds awesome!! I've never used Spotify, but I'll have to check it out! Happy writing!

  3. I find this absolutely fascinating, just because I've never written a historical fiction and if I wanted to I'm not sure how I could. This is a great place to start—thanks so much for sharing where you look for resources and how you keep everything organized: I'm pretty sure I'm going to need these ideas someday.

    1. You're very welcome, Heather! Thanks for commenting and good luck with your writing! =)

  4. I really enjoyed your article, Emily! Your research is so nice and organized. I always leave a trail of internet favorites behind me and end up researching multiple times because I can't go back and find them. Thanks for laying out the process! :)


  5. Hey! Visiting from the GTW's link-up.
    Woah, (ok, a bit off the subject of this post), the cover of your book is SO amazing. I really, really like it. :) I bought the book and I'm following your blog. Keep up the writing, I can't wait to read and see what you have to say. :)

    1. Awww!! Thank you so much for your sweet words, for buying my book, and following along!! You're awesome! =)