Research for Historical Writing
by Pegg Thomas
Nailing the Details
Many people who read historical and historical romance novels are those who love history. I know that’s true for me. As a life-long history geek, one thing that pulls me out of a story is incorrect details. Let me give a few examples of details that are easy to fact-check.
James haltered the horse, grabbed the reins, vaulted into the saddle and galloped away without a backward glance.
One doesn’t ride a horse with a halter. One rides a horse with a bridle, to which the reins are attached with either a bit or a hackamore. A quick Google search of horse tack (the correct term for gear used with horses) will save any non-horseperson the embarrassment of writing such a sentence.
The rifle knocked against his shoulder once, twice, and a third time as he watched the redcoats fall.
There were no repeating rifles during the Revolutionary War. The first repeaters were patented just before the Civil War, but they were not widely manufactured and distributed to foot soldiers until the end of that war. If you’re going to use a specific type of tool or weapon, always check to see when it became readily available in the geographic region of your story.
With a crack of the whip, the horses plunged into a full gallop, their Conestoga wagon rocking through the deep mud of the prairie.
Conestoga wagons were large and heavy. They sank in the mud, became mired more often than not, had to be dug free, and wagon trains often stayed in camp until the ground hardened enough for traveling. The wagons were almost always pulled with oxen, not horses. If you’re going to write about life on a wagon train, read some of the many journals written by those pioneers.
While writing Embattled Hearts, my new release in The Pony Express Romance Collection, I spent time researching the equipment a Pony Express rider would have, including the type of pistol he would carry and what his saddle bags would look like. The Pony Express had a specific type of saddle bag called a Mochila that fit over the entire saddle so that the weight of the rider held it in place. It contained four locked pockets, three of which could only be opened at military posts. The other pocket could be unlocked by any stationmaster. It contained the rider’s time-card which recorded their arrival and departure times from each station.
Knowing the little details adds a level of authenticity to your story that your history-loving readers will enjoy.
Pegg Thomas lives on a hobby farm in Northern Michigan with Michael, her husband of *mumble* years. A life-long history geek, she writes “History with a Touch of Humor.” Pegg’s debut story will be published by Barbour in April of 2017. When not working on her latest novel, Pegg can be found in her garden, in her kitchen, or on her trusty old horse, Trooper.
Amazon link to The Pony Express Romance Collection