10 Tips for Researching Historical Novels

By Elizabeth Ludwig, @ELudwig_Author

Today we’re addressing the issue of researching for historical fiction—everything from what our characters eat and think, to what they wear and where they live. I have written historical fiction for both Guideposts and Bethany House, and the one thing I can tell you with complete certainty is that readers of historical fiction typically love history. They can absolutely tell the difference between a hastily written story and one that has been carefully researched and will be turned off quickly if they think an author hasn’t done their homework. That’s understandable, right? After all, nobody wants to read a contemporary novel dressed up in period costume.

Personally, I think most authors give some thought to the setting of their story. Therefore, those historical details tend to be accurate. But what about those other historical tidbits that give a story substance? As a reader, one of my biggest pet peeves in historical fiction is contemporary thinking, speaking or actions from the characters. You’ve probably come across a bit of this yourself—women who gallivant all over the countryside completely unaccompanied, or men who allow themselves to be caught in comprising situations (or positions) with a lady. GASP!

How do you avoid this? I’ve found one of the best ways is to get your hands on copies of old etiquette books.  Some good examples are American Etiquette and Rules of Politeness by Walter R. Houghton, What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, or George Washington’s Rules of Good Behavior, ca. 1746. And of course, there are plenty more books to be found online.

Of course, not everyone adhered to the rules of those books, but being aware of the restrictions will help you when determining if an action by your character was accepted. If not, it will at least prompt you to provide a compelling reason for why something would be taking place.  For instance, as I mentioned above, women generally didn’t walk about town unaccompanied.  If they did, they were often thought to be women of ill repute.  So, what driving force could you use to make it absolutely necessary for something like this to occur?

Now, obviously, it is possible to have a character who doesn’t always follow the rules, but when you choose to go this route, be sure that you’ve given a compelling reason for their actions. For example, if your heroine is going to wear men’s clothing and later in the story be found out – give thought to those repercussions.  Remember, the repercussions do not necessarily have to be a bad thing because they add CONFLICT. Think about how you can you use this to put your heroine in even greater peril.

Another problem to avoid in historical fiction is the language the characters use.Nothing can jerk a reader out of the story faster than having a historical novel with contemporary language so be sure to check websites for the etymology of a word or phrase you intend to use. A good website for this is http://www.etymonline.com/. Also be sure to take a character’s social status and education into account.Consider where they live, for example, regions of the country (southern accent, etc.). Dialogue does so much for a historical book and gives a real flavor of the times.

But now really…how important are the mannerisms, customs, and language used by the characters in your book? The truth is, we don’t worry nearly as much about social customs in this day and age, but they are still important for our books if we want to give them substance and flavor.  I watched a movie recently where a common citizen was introduced to a reigning monarch. It was a casual setting, but still, the introduction was no different than two people meeting at the grocery store! This was a missed opportunity to add flavor to the scene—not to mention that it made the story seem false and a bit contrived.

Now, aside from books on etiquette, what are some other tools an author has at their disposal?

  • If at all possible, visit the location for the setting of your book. My husband and I were able to visit the mining town used as the setting for Finding Love in Calico, California. I spoke with one of the local historians and she became a valuable resource by providing pamphlets and other historical maps and tidbits.
  • When you can’t visit, call or contact the local historical societies and museums of the area you want to write about. This is a fantastic source for diaries and firsthand accounts. For example – I am setting a new series on Martha’s Vineyard. I needed information about one of the local churches but I couldn’t find it online. I called another church and discovered the one I was looking for had been renamed and moved from its previous location!
  • The state historical archives are also a great place to contact.  They have libraries and if you talk to the historian there you can get wonderful information.  Often they will even photocopy things (at a price) and mail to you.
  • For information on the weather (IE: temps and rainfall amounts for a specific location and year), check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). They have a lot of historical data regarding weather conditions. Here is a link to data for St. Louis going back to 1874, and Columbia from 1890. http://www.crh.noaa.gov/lsx/?n=cli_archiveHere is a link for other states info, TX included (not all states included):
    http://www.history.noaa.gov/morehistory.html. Another site that might be helpful is the 1828 Webster’s Dictionary. It’s available at http://www.1828-dictionary.com/ .
  • For ancestry information, check out the Ellis Island Foundation at https://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/. I found even more information on Ellis Island just be visiting the National Park Service website at https://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/ellis-island-national-monument
  • Colleges and universities are a wonderful resource for checking historical facts and information. And don’t forget to make friends with the librarians on campus. They can be very helpful and are often very willing!
  • Last but not least, browse tourist sites when you’re on the road or on vacation.  I have found some of my very best material at tourist shops, and I had a bit of fun while I was collecting them.

What about you? What resources have you found to be especially helpful?

In The Fullness of Time

With each passing season in their first year of married life, Cheryl and Levi Miller find a fresh set of challenges and adjustments to be made as the Englisher and her Amish farmer husband learn to live together. But by observing their friends and loved ones in the Sugarcreek community, the newlyweds see firsthand how God uses each new phase of life to reveal inspiring insights, spiritual truths, and future surprises…all while they harvest a whole new crop of mysteries as well!

Elizabeth Ludwig is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences where she lectures on crafting effective novel proposals and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Her latest releases include Home Sweet Sugarcreek and A Tempting Taste of Mystery, part of the SUGARCREEK AMISH MYSTERIES series from Guideposts. Along with her husband, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.

Are You Ready To Publish?

The world of publishing is changing. And you know this unless you just awoke from a long 10 year nap.

There are more options available to writers today than ever before. 
The e-publishing entrepreneurs have changed the way we see book publishing. 
Writers around the world rejoice. Authors with no platform, or with a stack of rejections can publish their books on their own.
Long time authors holding rights revisions can now do something affordable and effective to revitalize their out-of-print books.
And the publishers can do the same. There’s new life to backlists. I recently had a four year old title, The Wedding Dress, hit the New York Times Bestseller list.
If you’re not published yet, traditionally or independently, you have all kinds of options. But you must ask yourself, “Am I ready?”
Just because you can be published doesn’t mean you should be published.
I know, I know, it’s so hard to wait when you’ve been working on a book for months or perhaps years. 
You’ve edited that thing to death and your crit partners have read ad nauseam and refuse to read it “one more time.” 
You are ready to get your book out there. After all, you love your story. It’s your baby. But traditional publishers have failed to see it’s merits. So, you sneak over to Amazon’s CreateSpace and think, “Hmm.. I could just publish it myself.”
I love your entrepreneurial thinking. Going outside the box and finding a way to tell your story is key to being a great author. 
I did something similar back in ’02 when I sold my little romance, This Time, to an e-publisher. No one had ever heard of a Nook or Kindle back then but I thought, “Even if one person reads it and enjoys it, one person outside my circle of friends, then it’s worth it.” 
While it’s a sweet story, it’s not my best writing. It was only the second book I’d ever written. I’ve learned so much since then.
There are more things to consider about writing than “being published.” Or that the publishers just don’t “get” or like your story.
Publishers have to consider their market. They must give something to the sales team that they can pitch to a bookseller in a few short minutes. If that.
Publishers have to consider their own business goals and brands. Your story might be fantastic in every way but not a product that fits the vision and goals of a publisher. 
There are times I’m not sure I can come up with a high concept, pitchable story idea that will fire-up a sales team. So I consult with my writing partner, my agent, my editor and on occasion, my dog. She’s a good listener.
For every indie success story such as J. A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking there are a hundred Noname Jones and WhoAreYou Smith with books languishing in e-publishing la-la land.
Indie books, above all books, it could be argued, need to be a cut above. Why? Because the competition to be seen is incredible. 
If you are considering independent publishing, or even going with a small publishing house, consider these things:
  1. Rewrite your book. Serious. Don’t just edit and “fix.” Rewrite. Books need to be crafted. And they are not written, they are rewritten. Fork out the money for a substantive edit. Then for a line edit. What’s the difference? A substantive edit is also called a macro edit. It’s a wide review of the story and characters from a trained eye to see if all the components work. You need more than advance readers in order to craft a good story. Readers often don’t have a critical eye. They overlook inconsistencies. They don’t understand craft. A skilled editor can help with characterization, plot, symbols and metaphors. But again, a macro edit is a sweeping, top-down view of your story.  I once worked with a private client who’d been through many professional “editors.” While they helped her with grammar and perhaps some minor elements of the story, they provided no services to her with story crafting. Her story and premise were riddled with holes. So find someone to help you craft your book. 
  2. Hire a good line editor. Also called a micro editor. I love line editors. They really get into the “weeds” of the story. They focus on sentences and words where a substantive editor focuses on scenes, chapters, story and characters. Line editors can really help shore up a story and fine tune minute details.
  3. Hire a good cover artist. Unless you’re a skilled artist, don’t try to do the cover yourself.   I hate when I see a poor quality cover on an indie book. It makes me not want to read it. There are a lot of skilled artist who will create a cover for a reasonable price. Also, research components of a good cover. Writers usually want way too much detail. But covers are really visual concepts of what the story is about. Covers should convey a feeling. It’s true, books are judged by the cover.
  4. Pricing. The free verses cheap debate. Should authors give their work away for free? Aren’t we worthy to be paid for our labor? But free often gets the consumer’s attention. But so does cheap. Latest news I’ve heard is $.99 and $1.99 are fair and solid prices for new indie authors. But do your research. 
  5. Build your tribe and social media platforms. Build relationships with other writers, with readers, with publishers. Be a friend. Be a fan. Be a supporter. Talk about others as much as you talk about yourself. I know when readers or other writers shout out to their social media venues about my books, I’m more than happy to do it for them in return. If I like a book, I post about it. I write a good review. Get involved in the writing community. Networking is the key to just about everything. Publishing, especially indie publishing, is no exception.
  6. Set aside at least $1,000 to $3,000 for promotion. You just have to do it. Network with indie authors who have experience with promotion. Consider Book Bub and other indie promotional sites.
  7. Pray. Be patient. Trust the Lord’s timing is perfect for you.
I hope these help to help. Remember, no book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble is better than a bad book. 🙂


New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

Crafting The First Line of Your Novel

By Rachel Hauck

There are times we don’t want to craft a novel. We just want to write one and be done with it.

But those books are closet books no one wants to buy or read. Those are the books that draw rejection slips. 

Books are crafted. They have to be thought out, at some level, and orchestrated to some glorious, perfect end.

Books must be a continual flow of the story with daring obstacles that knock the protagonist off course, that challenge is resolve to get to the bottom of the story problem.

In the midst of the story there are overarching themes and questions. The infamous “story question” is the rudder to you vessel.

Will the heroine achieve her dream to star on stage and screen?

Can true love last through the decades? Or will it fade away?

Can one wedding dress be worn by four women and never fade, wear out or need to be altered?

There are other questions I ask as I’m writing:

What can the protagonist do in the end she couldn’t do in the beginning? 

What does she want? 

What is this book about? 

Why? I ask “Why?” a lot. When ever I make a declarative statement I follow with a why to get to the deeper meaning.

But all of these MUST be asked and answered in some form to really craft the best possible opening line.

The opening line must indicate some truth, problem or question about the story. It must set the hook, draw the reader into the story.

Far too often I read opening lines that are merely a physical action to begin the opening scene. 

“Judy waved to her neighbor as she walked into the house.” 

Okay… unless she’s in garden wars with the neighbor and the next line is, “She dreamed of haunting that woman on a dark and stormy night,” waving to the neighbor isn’t all that engaging.

It doesn’t draw me into the question, the emotion of the story.

Let’s look at Judy in the midst of a yard war with her neighbor.

“Judy waved to that crazy Linda as she made her way inside the house. If that woman stepped one foot in her yard this gardening season, she’d haunt her like a ghost.”

Now we get a sense that something has gone on between the two women. And frankly, I’m a bit intrigued. What’s going on? 

Opening lines must set the emotion and feel for our books. 

From Conversations with a Book Therapist, Susan May Warren offers this advice:

A Voice. I don’t love starting with Dialogue, because we don’t know who is talking, but sometimes it can be effective in first person.
For example, “Call me Ishmael.” (Moby Dick), or maybe something from contemporary literature, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into if, if you want to know the truth.” (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger).
This works because we are immediately introduced to the character and get into their head. Ultimately, we are wooed by their personality.
Rachel Here: I’m not a fan of opening in dialog either, but I opened Once Upon A Prince with, “What did you say?” because I felt like it drew the reader in to the same question as the heroine. “Yea, what did you say?”

Author great Gabriel Garcia Marquez said this about the first line:

“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph.. in the first paragraph, you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be.”  Gabriel Garcia Marquez…1992 Nobel Prize for Literature (100 years of solitude).  Sold over 10 million copies.

Persona. Start your story with the description of someone iconic. Someone that stands out in our minds.
“There once was a boy name Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis.)
RH: Isn’t that a great line?!
Or, “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” (Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell).
Note that both these voices are omniscient, but you could build a strong character introduction through the voice of a POV character.
Consider the opening to John Irving’s, A Prayer for Owen Meany. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God.”
If the character will have a profound impact on your story or your POV character, perhaps start with a snapshot of that character.
Reminiscing.  Many coming of age stories start with a step into the past, some statement that sums up where the character finds themselves today.
Susie did this in Everything’s Coming up Josey. “It’s important to acknowledge that Chase was right and if it weren’t for him I might have never found my answers.”
Basically, it’s a summary of the past, spoken from the present. And the rest of the book is about proving or revealing the impact of this reminiscence.
Here’s one from The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald. “In my younger and my more vulnerable years my father gave some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
A Statement. I like to start stories with a sort of starting place. A statement of opinion or fear or hope.
Jane Austen does this in Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
When you make a statement, you are setting up the story question in a novel. You’ll spend the rest of the book making a comment about or proving your statement.
 I did this in How To Catch A Prince. My opening line, “With each passing day, she remembered she had a secret,” set the stage for a huge secret the heroine harbored in her heart.
Secrets always draw us in, don’t they? What is the secret! We want to know. 
In Princess Ever After, my opening line was a statement and it indicated exactly what I wanted the reader to know about my heroine at the beginning of the story:
“She’d found bliss. Perhaps even true love. Behind the wheel of a ’71 Dodge Challenger restored to slant-6 perfection.”
This line says my heroine wants for nothing. She’s found her passion, her life’s goal. Why would she need anything else. Why would she want to go anywhere else? 
Well, the story is about challenging that very same opening line!
Let your opening line set the tone of your book. It should grab hold of the theme, the want, the story question in some way. 
Change up the way you do it now.
Instead, open with what they are thinking, feeling, experiencing. 
I’ve bought books based on the opening line. And rarely am I disappointed. 

Here are a few first lines from some award winning authors:

“She’d come 3000 miles to burn to death.” by Susan May Warren
Susie says, “I like this because we are immediately worried, but also, wonder what she’s doing there.  It makes the reader want more.” From Where There’s Smoke—out in June. 
“Gabe Talmadge felt the backside of his navel rubbing against his spine. An interesting sensation, he thought before losing consciousness.” by Robin Lee Hatcher.
Robin says, “I think it works because the reader knows in a few words that Gabe is in desperate circumstances. I love it for that same reason.” From The Shepherd’s Voice (winner of the RITA Award) 
“The Kansas sky matched Piper Kendall’s mood—gray and stormy.” by Deborah Raney.
Deb says, “We learn where the story is set, what the day is like, how the character feels, and I think we also learn a little about her just by hearing her unusual name.” From a work in progress, Going Once, Going Twice.

“Annabelle Grayson McCutchens stared at the dying man beside her and wished, as she had the day she married him, that she loved her husband more.” by Tamera Alexander.
Tammy says, “It encapsulates the heroine’s dire circumstance and her most urgent regret in that moment.” From her novel Revealed.

“When it comes to burning bridges, I am the Queen of Kerosene.” by Julie Lessman
Julie says, “I like it because I think it’s somewhat funny and pretty much sets the tone for the rest the book as far as being a story about forgiveness.” From Isle of Hope

“There was a time in Africa the people could fly.” by Sue Monk Kidd 
Great opening—sparks interest and makes you want to read on to see how the author answers that unspoken question. From Invention of Wings.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
—George Orwell, 1984

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
—Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. —Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (1895)


New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Rachel Hauck lives in sunny central Florida.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in uncomfortable chair to write full time eight years ago.
Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and worship leader.
Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

Here latest novel, The Wedding Chapel landed on Booklist’s Top Ten Inspirationals for 2015.
Visit her web site: www.rachelhauck.com.

Writing the Pain

by Marcia Lee Laycock

Anne Rice wrote – “When I’m writing, the darkness is always there. I go where the pain is.”

But why do it? Why go to places in our lives that are painful. Why put it on the page?

I recently attended the First Nations Christian Writers’ Conference in Winnipeg Manitoba. The first of its kind in Canada, it was attended by aboriginal people from all over the country. The First Nations Christian Writers’ Anthology was launched and several of the authors published in it were there to read.

There was a lot of pain in their stories. A young man wrote about the abuse he suffered in a foster home. A woman wept as she described finding her sister hanging by an electrical cord in a bathroom. Yes, there was a lot to make one shudder. But there was also hope in those stories because they did not stop with the pain, they went beyond it.

Several years ago I heard Eli Wiesel tell the story about the catalyst that made him write about his experience during the Holocaust. After WW2, he had gone to Paris to try and find surviving members of his family. He got a job as a journalist and on one occasion had to interview Francois Mauriac, the famous Christian writer.

When Mauriac spoke about Jesus Wiesel exploded and told him to stop. He said that not far from where they were sitting atrocious things had happened to his people. “And we have to words,” he said. “We have no words.”

Mauriac was deeply moved and responded – “You must find the words. You must write this story.” Wiesel began to write and the result was some of the most powerful writing produced about the horrors of that era. Wiesel won the Nobel Prize for that work.

Francois Mauriac was right. We must find the words to express those things that are ugly and evil in order that they do not defeat us. We must get to the other side of them. This is the writer’s acknowledgement of stewardship – the stewardship of his/her gift and talent. 1Corinthians 4:2 says – “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” I believe we have been given a trust as writers and we must be faithful to it. To make our lives of use to others we must be willing to touch those parts of ourselves that are universal – the pain and the joy of being human.

Madeleine L’Engle once said – “It is not that what is, is not enough, for it is; it is that what is has been disarranged, and is crying out to be put in place.”

We do not write about the ugliness, the darkness, the things of despair, in order to glorify them, but in order to put them in their place and to recognize that there is redemption of all that is ugly and evil in this world, because of what happened on a cross at the base of a hill in a tiny country then called Palestine.

Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian song writer and poet said it well: “you’ve got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.” 

Marcia Lee Laycock writes from central
Alberta Canada where she is a pastor’s wife and mother of three adult
daughters. She was the winner of The Best New Canadian Christian Author Award
for her novel, One Smooth Stone. The sequel, A Tumbled Stone was short listed
in The Word Awards. Marcia also has three devotional books in print and has
contributed to several anthologies, including the Hot Apple Cider books. Her
work has been endorsed by Sigmund Brouwer, Janette Oke, Phil Callaway and Mark

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