Research and the Period Novel

English: A panorama of a research room taken a...

I spent the better part of six months researching biblical end-times scenarios, possible ways that the world could fall apart geopolitically, super-viruses, and another six months outlining my novel to incorporate all of that knowledge.  One of the biggest problems that period novels have is when the research takes over the novel entirely.

For example, a novel is set in London in 1798 and the writer has done extensive research.  The storyline is very well plotted, with characterization that causes us to see these characters and how they must have lived in their era, but then the author spends the next fifteen pages explaining the history and culture of the time period, leaving us wondering what happened to those wonderful characters.

In my current novel I had to find the balance between telling my readers about the fictional future timeline I had carefully constructed and simply letting my characters live in it and allow the reader to experience it through the eyes of those characters.  I am finding that leaning more toward the latter view is what is causing my novel to be more engaging rather than boring people with the bitter details of our world’s demise.

Once in a while, in the dialogue or in an inner monologue, I will spend maybe a short paragraph filling the reader in on the events of the future-past, but it is always very brief, poignant and meshes well with the action of the plot.  It is important to remember that we novelists are storytellers, after all, and we must entertain our readers enough while showing them how artful we can be with our words and possibly sailing our heart’s message across the sea of their indifference.

If we bog down our novel with long historical cataloguing, we ruin the point of why people pick up fiction novels, and that is to be engaged, to escape, and to hopefully think about the human condition.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “Research and the Period Novel

  1. My only problem with this is that while it should be true, you and I can both point at any number of bestsellers that suggest it’s not. My question is thus: what do those authors do (beyond already having a loyal following) that lets them get away with it?

    Actually, never mind. I answered my own question. 🙂

  2. You’ve made some excellent points. This is exactly what I found with the historical aspect of my novels. There is a careful balance between enough information to clue in the reader and too much information that bogs down the story. 🙂

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