Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Research or no research!

When it comes to “do you do research for modern contemporary novels?” then the answer is a great fat NO. It’s always seemed as though characters have either lived in places I have or places I’ve visited and fell in love with: sometimes vice versa. Horses have often featured. Hardly surprising because equines are second nature to me, and they make for a great backdrop interspersed with action. Basically, I stick with what I’m familiar with.

However, a historical novel requires much research. Despite my prior knowledge of plots and period setting (1600/1700s), there are facets of every day life I’m unfamiliar with even though I feel a great affinity with the 17th and early 18th century. Basic food, miraculously, proved little different than today with regards bread, bacon (ham) and meat, eggs, plain un-exotic vegetables and fruit, and preserving of such re salted beef, jams, preserves. But, when did cocoa (drinking chocolate) first hit these shores? When did China tea first hit these shores? When did coffee first hit these shores? When did each become commercial properties served in coffee houses? China tea became a commercial item long after having been consumed in private by wealthy elements in society. Another interesting fact: did you know people drank hawthorn flower/leaf tea beside herbal concoctions, ale, and wine? The former, very refeshing and not unlike green tea!

 But, now here’s the thing, I quite got carried away with research on ladies and gentleman’s attire: not style because I’m up on all that. My interest lay in what kind of fabrics were available, where and how sourced? I adore velvet, satin, silk, and damask. With the Elizabethan era at end (see above) square necklines with their stiff upright lace collars, neck-ruffs, and below waist girdles with navel point soon fell out of favour. By 1644 and the Civil War raging in its second year, ladies necklines became softer. And, as can be seen from the images below, styles for wealthy ladies changed back and forth during this period.

 Round necklines were in, so too soft voile modesty drapes for some while soft lace frills favoured by others. Sleeves became quite flamboyant with puffs, sometimes with velvet outer and slits to allow peep of contrast silk under. Skirts and bodice/girdles often stopped at the waist, and all made from a variety of luscious fabrics: velvets, satins, silks, damask and other. The Puritans on the other hand retained square necklines and adopted modesty drapes and or stiff up-to-the-neck collars. Their skirts and bodice mostly that of wool and girdles/bodice sometimes kidskin: suede as we know it today.

Why need for this much research, one might ask. But, if I’d remained ignorant of this knowledge how could I let a reader see and feel the fabric of the MC’s outfit and that of other characters? By the late 17th century early 18th, girdles/bodice with navel split-points were in favour. Sleeves were tailored narrow from shoulder to frill trim at or below elbow, and frills on skirts in abundance. See left hand image. 

Oh, just a quick reminder: although we're in 2011 it's the 21st century. The years 1600 are 17th century so on and so forth!

Ahem, history lesson over. School out!  ;)


Josh Hoyt said...

Great information. I love to do research but find that I love writing more and so the research gets put on the back burner at times.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Josh,

I know what you mean! But I'm a fabric hoarder, so for me this kind of research was blissful escapism. ;)


Jen Chandler said...

Hi Francine!

First of all, I totally understand the whole dropping out of the A-Z. We've got to do what's best for us, and if it's taking away from our writing, I don't think it's worth it!

I love this post :) I always love the research part of everything I write. Of course, I tend to get carried away and forget to do the actual writing!!

Loved the history lesson. Knowing that an author really dug into the history of a time period, to the point of telling me what a character's clothes felt like, makes me respect the author and her work.

Write on!

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Jen,

Yep, I tend to get carried away on research, too. But, if characters sit on the wall kicking their heels mumbling in the background they can bug me enough to kickstart the writing. ;)


Theresa Milstein said...

I think no mater what timeframe we write, there's always something to research. Today, I just put a shout out looking for cops and law officials so I can ask some questions about my contemporary WIP.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Theresa,

Good for you: I bet you'll get a great response. I did that once when in need of Stateside police info relating to crossing state lines whilst under pursuit. Lo and behold officers from an Interstate liaison department got in touch, and they were great! Definitely Kosher cops, too.


Kittie Howard said...

Thanks for the great info, Fancine. I also enjoyed learning more about the fabrics as, I think, fabric choice says much about a character. I'm always amused, tho, by plunging necklines above all that material.

I'm not in the A-Z Challenge and am having difficulty keeping up with others.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Kitty,

Thanks for dropping in. Plunging necklines back then, I guess, equate to tight Jeans/short skirts and scanty tops of today: a measure of womanly wares on display for appreciation purposes. Hee hee, no wonder sight of a dainty ankle could set a Leg-man's heart on fire! ;)


J.L. Campbell said...

I take my hat off to your research writers all day every day. I think if I wrote historical fiction, I'd be sidetracked with all the fascinating details, but anyway, I'm too lazy for detailed reserach.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi J.L,

Believe it, I get sidetracked all the time. I tend to get lost in side streets off main: Link Row, Info Square, Import Docks, so on and so forth. But that's half the fun. ;)


Andy said...

Hello Francine.
This was a fascinating read. I'm not big on the research thing. I may look up a word here and there, but for the most part I just write from imagination or what I actually know.

I like to dress up and I do like how the women and men were attired in those days.

Francine Howarth said...

Hi Andy,

Yeah, gorgeous attire! I feel quite at home with it all. ;)


featherpenstartandreams said...

Found you through Rach's Writers Platform-Building Campaign. I've actually been afraid to do an historical because I didn't want to get anything wrong. I write contemporary at the moment and I do research street names and directions because I never know if someone in that city will read my book. If I didn't do my research, they'd never believe me credible and may never pick up another one of my works.

Looking forward to knowing you during the campaign.

Melanie Macek