How many times do I have to say it? If you’re going to write something, research it.
Sure if it’s historical or science and even if you are an expert on both or either, you’re going to make mistakes. Partly you’re going to make mistakes because you’re human. Even say, about Elizabethan England, where I know tons of things, there are things I don’t know, and I’ll come across it and go “Uh, they did WHAT?”
Or take when I was writing the Musketeers mysteries. This mind you was when the internet was but a toddler, just learning to walk, and not able to say “Dada”. I found nothing about how laundry was done in the time of the musketeers in Paris. I needed that for Death of a Musketeer. So I assumed it was done the same way it was done in the rest of Europe and put that in the book and I’m not going to revise it.
Except… it wasn’t. Not only it wasn’t, but h*ll it wasn’t. It was done more like in Portugal in my childhood. If you gave your laundry out to wash, women would take it to the river and wash heck out of it, including beating it with stones, or sun-bleaching it.
Well, in Paris in the time of the musketeers, it was the same except that there were laundry boats anchored on the Seine, and you had to pay rent to use them. So professional laundresses rented their facilities from boatmen.
I found this out while reading a travelogue of the time that I didn’t come across till I was on the fourth book.
Anyway…. No matter how much you try to make it right, you’ll get some things wrong.
But seriously — not even trying?
Look, I’m going to be blunt here: whatever you learned in school about a time period is not enough. Those cute little Writers’ Digest “life in” are not enough, not unless what you’re writing is a short story or a book where only a short bit pertains to the historical period, but for the whole thing? Too many pitfalls.
Those Writer’s Digest manuals are like one of those cheap booklets that tell you how to ask where the bathroom is, or what the cost of something is. They’re good for the basics, and even then the grammar will be bad, and a word might not be quite what a native would use. If you’re moving to the other country — and when writing you’re moving to the other country for a while — you need to know more.
Yes, I’ve been reading regencies again. I do this when I have the flu, because they’re predictable and low effort, being a highly formulaic format. Thing is, though, all the ones I read had thousands upon thousands of positive reviews. And yet I rarely found one without an error.
I was okay with minor errors, like having women attend funerals (they didn’t, not in the regency.) It’s the ones that think the regency was Victorian England, or worse Elizabethan England that get on my nerves. It’s like people watched a movie, sometime, and that’s the extent of their research.
I’ll even roll my eyes and let it go when they have debutantes wearing bright green satin (seriously, guys, they wore muslin and usually pale colors.) or walking alone with their family’s compliant consent.
What gets me is more stuff where, you know, England is not … the way we expect. Like, during the regency, Elizabeth will be on the throne. Or the city of London is divided into two sections, Good Ton and Bad Ton (I SWEAR I’m not making this up) or a girl up from the country and walking alone gets picked up by the queen in her carriage (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) because “you looked sad.” Or….
I’ll be honest with you, maybe this was the ONLY mistake in the whole book, but when I trip on it three pages in, I’m not going to read anymore.
Maybe I’m a minority. As I said, all these books have hundreds of good reviews (then again, Amazon never was very good at getting rid of all the automated reviews, and there are clubs for this, too) but I will throw them against the wall.
And maybe you think I’m being crotchetty, but I tell you, I am the voice that cries in the desert: get off my lawn.
Before you write something in a time period not our own, in a country not our own, in a discipline you only read about, research.
I do it in three phases, first I get a bunch of general books on the time period (this will often involve one of those Writer’s Digest books.
Then those books, in their biliography will suggest others “for further reading.” I’ll explore a few of those, then read some biographies set in the time. AND after I write the book, I try to find a beta reader who is an expert in the field, and I run it by him.
Perhaps I’m fussy, I don’t know. But I know I wouldn’t go on about the plight of moors in Regency England.
It might not be much, but we must each be proud of what we can.