Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ilona Fridl'sThirteen Hints on Researching a Historical Novel

It’s my pleasure to welcome multi-published author, Ilona Fridl to the Otherworld Diner. Her historical romances pass along tidbits from the past as they captive readers. Want to add flair to your period pieces or construct a scene so vividly readers imagine they’re caught in history? Ilona’s advice will help.

Header by Samulli

1.Don't rely on Wikpedia for your facts. They're very good at writing fiction themselves.
2.Make sure when you include a famous structure in your novel, make sure it existed in that time. If your 1500's warriors are trying to escape London by going over the Tower Bridge, they're going to get wet. It wasn't built until the 1800's.
3.If in the 1910's, your hero hears a phone ring, make sure they had service there. Many places didn't have phone service yet.
4.Look at a map from the time you're writing about. Know where the streets are. Anyone from that area could tell if you goof on an intersection.
5.Check your facts from at least two sources.
6.See what different pieces of clothing was called in the period you're working in. Were pants called trousers, bloomers, pantaloons, slacks, etc.?
7.Women's makeup has gone through many different fazes. Some eras there was hardly any and others were elaborate. Did you know that in the 1700's women used beeswax for a beautiful complexion? They couldn't sit near a fire, unless they wanted to “lose face.”
8.Research etiquette books from the era you're writing about. Manners have changed drastically through the years. As late as the 1900's, when a women went out to dinner with a man, she couldn't talk directly to the waiter. The man had to order for her.
9.See what foods were available in that time frame. For example, bananas were introduced to America in 1876. No banana pies for the Civil War.
10.On the other hand, some foods have been around for quite a while. You could make S'mors in 1900 with graham crackers, Hersey bars, and Sta-Puff marshmallows. Or you could dunk your Oreo in milk in 1912.
11.If you mention a famous person, make sure you don't stray from the facts of his life. You could say Attila the Hun conquered Australia, but unless you're writing a fantasy, You'll look like you threw that in without checking.
12.With transportation, make sure the people you write about had access to what you think they need. Do you realize that in the Americas before the Europeans came over, no one ever invented a wheel?
13.Watch for slang words in your dialog. Also, before the middle of the 1800's using contractions was considered “lazy speech.”

Here's an example from my new book, Bronze Skies, of some of the historical research:

Pam pounded on the table in frustration. “I can’t believe Japan would hesitate to surrender after two of those horrible bombs were dropped on their cities. You’d think they’d give up just to save their people.”

Shaking her head, Jenny said, “There have been so many false reports, it’s hard to know what’s true and what isn’t.”

“Everyone got so excited at that news story two days ago saying Japan had surrendered, and then a few minutes later it was, ‘Nope, they didn’t.’”

Glancing at her watch, Jenny remarked, “It’s ten to three. May as well finish setting up for the movie crowd.” She got up and disappeared into the kitchen, while Pam headed to the bar, where she set up the clean glasses and turned on the radio. Music would take her mind off things while she swayed her hips to “Take the A Train” and the glasses thunked down in a straight row.

Suddenly, the microphone crackled to life and the announcer came on. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have news coming in from Washington, D.C.”

Pam quickly called everyone in, and they stared, breathless, at the radio. “Ladies and gentlemen, President Harry Truman has stated to the press that he received a message of surrender from the Japanese government...” The rest of the statement was lost in the roar of excitement in the room. Pam, caught up in the rolling sea of hugs and kisses all around, could easily have flown to the moon with her arms outstretched. The waitresses were in a massive hug and jumping up and down, while Addy and Zeke did an impromptu tango around the dance floor. Josh whirled Muriel off her feet as Ivan and Kata shouted out their joy. Jenny found Pam and Amelia, and the three cried on each other’s shoulders while laughing out loud.
I want to thank Brenda for inviting me to guest today. Come see my web site at I'm also on Facebook and Goodreads. You can purchase my books at


  1. Excellent tips. I couldn't help chuckling over number one. *G* ME

  2. Thank you so much! These are great tips. I don't write historicals but I have one pushing at me so this is great timing as I make my notes. :)

    Happy T13,

    13 Cakes

  3. Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing those. I really liked your example, too.

  4. Heather,
    Yeah. I smiled at number one too. It's something I have to remember because I'm a big fan of Wikpedia.

  5. Xakara,
    I bet you'd write a killer historical. Keep us posted.

  6. Country Dew,
    Yeah, I agree with you. Ilona gave some awesome examples. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. Thanks for sharing! I'm always impressed by how much work and knowledge it takes to write a historical. Thanks for the tips.

  8. Great advice! Happy Thursday.

  9. Caridad,
    Thanks. Ilona is really good at reseach. I love all the authetic details in her work.

  10. allstarme,
    Thanks. I found Ilona's advice helpful too.

  11. This was interesting and useful, and I enjoyed the excerpt, too.

  12. As a writer, I totally get this! thanks :-)

  13. MissMeliss and Tina Martin,
    Thanks. I'm glad you found it useful.

  14. Hi, Brenda and all!
    I'm glad you enjoyed my tips! I'm giving an online and on-site Historical Research Class for AllWriters in Waukesha. (so much for an advertisement) :)
    Anyway, I hope you take a look at my Dangerous Times series!
    If you have any questions, I'll be popping in and out today and be happy to answer.

  15. Thank you, Julia!

  16. What a great idea for a TT! Loved beeswax and "losing face."

  17. It's a fun way to learn history.

  18. The first one, wins it all!
    "Don't rely on Wikpedia for your facts. They're very good at writing fiction themselves."

    Thanks for dropping by! I enjoy your blog ^_^

  19. Julia,
    Thanks. I like Ilona's excerpt too.

  20. The Gal Herself,
    I'm glad you liked the tips and the short history lesson. :)

  21. colleen,
    Yep, I think so too. Thanks for stopping by.

  22. Candy,
    Thanks. I like number one too.

  23. I'm glad you all liked the tips. Brenda, I want to thank you again for hosting me!

  24. Great tips - I also got a good laugh over #1! :)

  25. Ilona Fridl,
    Thank you for visiting the diner and sharing your research knowledge with us.

  26. Kristin,
    I agree and I appreciate you stopping by. Thanks.