It’s the first Wednesday of July and that means IWSG time! Woot-Woot! I hope the Americans in the crowd had a good Independence Day. You can check out the IWSG here!

Let me see–insecurities. 1) Why am I such a slow writer? I’m at 23K on my draft, I’ve realized it’s not  a historical romance but a historical with romantic elements (the romance people who read this will understand), and yeah.
2) I’m not sure how I feel about giving away my work for free, but Smashwords has a month-long sale for July. Both Pearl and “When Mary Left” are free with use of a coupon code for the entire month. Only available at Smashwords.

Frankly, I like being paid for my work but indie authors can’t always be choosers. So far, the sale seems to be moving product.

On to this month’s question:

What is one valuable lesson you’ve learned since writing?

So. Many. But I’ll focus on how valuable research is because it’s on my mind right now. If you want to be an author, researching writing, books, story structure, and publishing is imperative, but sometimes–most times–you need to research for the story itself. Because you don’t know everything.

I love historical fiction, didn’t want to write it for a long time because all that research seemed so daunting. And then I just started doing it.

My draft takes place in 1804 London. I didn’t look much up starting this story, because 1804 is close enough to the Regency era that I can write Fictional Regency-Adjacent London and be fine. I looked up three things: what Napoleon was doing in 1804, what William Wilberforce was doing in 1804, and what date the Epsom Derby was that year. All of these things coincided nicely as a historical cushion for my story and off I marched into the writing mist.

I was writing a scene recently. Here’s a bit of it:

             Crestwell turned to him. “Miles, how many slaves does Halbridge Hall own?”

            “Ninety-four when I left. And it was fifty pounds paid to the parish to manumit one slave at the time.”
            Cresty winced. “Fifty pounds! Multiplied by ninety-four.”
            “It would be a steep payment, my lord,” Sebold said.
             “Five thousand pounds, about,” Miles calculated. It was a substantial amount of money, more than Miles’s annual income.

This little snippet of a longer scene involves two pieces of research. Can you guess what they are?

In the 19th century, in order to free a slave, you had to pay a manumission fee. In this case, they’re in England talking about a family property in Barbados, which raised its fee in the 1790s to fifty pounds per slave. In Pearl, fifty pounds is accurate.

But wait a sec, was that still the case in 1804? I wasn’t sure. I mean, it wasn’t a lot of time in between. I could probably fudge it. I could not mention the exact amount, right? I went through my notes for Pearl, went back to the sources, then ended up on Google Books. I found my answer.

In 1801, Barbados raised the fee: two hundred pounds to free a man, three hundred to free a woman. So now, the conversation was altered a bit and it continues into this:

“How much of the viscountcy’s annual income is that?” Crestwell asked.
            “About a third,” Sebold said. Silence reigned. A third of the yearly income. Crestwell’s face was still, but his eyes blazed. Selling Halbridge Hall was one thing; freeing the slaves would be something else completely.
            “But they’ve since raised it,” Miles said. “Two hundred pounds for a man, three hundred pounds for women.” A muscle under Crestwell’s eye twitched. 

Now, I’m not mentioning the value of research to pat my own back. Historicals are more research-heavy than most other genres. I’ve been told “it’s not that important to get the facts so correct. You’re not writing a textbook.” But in this case, that manumission fee affects a vague plotting thing I had in mind. It makes it harder. It makes it more interesting. It actually affects the story, which is what you want your researched facts to do!

So take a second and Google stuff for your story. Take satisfaction in knowing the facts even if you twist them or fictionalize them or they’re mentioned in passing or nobody else cares. Know that readers like me Google things about books they’ve just finished reading.

And yes, I do grumble briefly if something is off. Seriously. Why are authors still messing up British title usage? Google. It.

If only I’d been this research-happy in Research Writing class in college.

19 thoughts on “IWSG July

  1. Why do women cost more?! That's outrageous! Oh my gosh…if I fall into a research hole, it's over for the story. I can't. For my current project, though, I watched a documentary and the Ides of March with Ryan Gosling (great movie!) just so I could get a tiny bit of my office politics right. It's not even important. It's just one of the reasons I felt intimidated by the story, so I stuffed a bit of knowledge in my head to give me more confidence. The documentary was boring, yet informative, but the movie is my kind of research!


  2. To be honest, the manumission thing's not the main focus of the story, but it affects Miles's external plot, so I had to get it right. But still! You looked up things about Asheville when you wrote No Rest For the Wicked. It's something I've learned how to do while writing this kind of stuff, y'know?As for the women costing more to free, it's because they could have kids, for one reason.


  3. Research is so important—especially in historical fiction. I read one such novel where it was obvious that the author did no research whatsoever. Though it made it an unintentionally hilarious book, it felt like an insult to the readers. So I definitely applaud authors who take the time to research their stories.And I also worry about being a slow writer, too. 🙂


  4. So take a second and Google stuff for your story. Take satisfaction in knowing the facts even if you twist them or fictionalize them or they're mentioned in passing or nobody else cares.Yes, yes, yes. I can't rest till I've made sure all facts in my books are correct.


  5. Oh, don't get me wrong–I get caught up in the characters and the story and all that and sometimes I don't care if the details are fudged if there's a reason for it. But if the things are fudged for no reason beyond not taking two seconds to Google something, then that's problematic.


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