5 Steps to Writing Realistic Historical Fiction – With Amy Carol Reeves

27 May
Amy Reeves

Amy Carol Reeves

Today, I’m excited to have Amy Carol Reeves, author of the Ripper trilogy, visit to give advice on navigating the waters of writing historical fiction.  Take it away Amy!

While working on the Ripper series, a young adult paranormal mystery series about the Jack the Ripper murders in Victorian London, I learned so much about writing historical fiction. I thought after my many years as a graduate student that the research would be a breeze. After all, I was used to spending much of my time in the dusty bowels of libraries, rare book collections, interlibrary loan departments.

But researching for a novel is much broader and more extensive than researching for a scholarly paper where the scope is always smaller. For instance, rather than researching something very specific, like gender roles in Wuthering Heights, suddenly, I had to find in one sitting, information about carriages, food, pistols, poisons, and hospitals in Victorian London.

Here are 5 things I’ve learned through my experiences:

1.  There are so many helpful search engines.

Google Scholar, The Victorian Web, Casebook: Jack the Ripper, are among a few. Through these I found so many helpful links to articles or even original documents about Victorian culture.

2.  Connect to other bloggers.

In the writing world, whether you are writing about Tudor Era England, the French Revolution, or the Victorian period as I was, there are other scholars and writers who love your topic as much as you do. Connect with them, visit their blogs. Often, they can even point you in the direction of a new source, like a book, documentary, or even a museum.

3.  Know your audience.

Because I wrote Ripper for young adults, I had to find a balance between keeping the language authentic but also interesting and accessible to teenage readers.

4.  Don’t overwhelm your readers with history.

Only keep historical detail that is relevant to the story. Although the history geek in me sometimes wants to linger too long upon historical information when I write, I often during my editing phase have to pare down historical details to what is essential. Research should serve mainly to enrich, to give texture to the story that you are writing.

5.  Research can often be fun! 

Although I have been to London before, while working on the final book in the trilogy, I flew to London to revisit Highgate Cemetery (a major setting in the Ripper series) and Old St. Pancras Church (a setting in Resurrection.) While at the church, I made contact with the church historian, learning some stories about the church’s architecture and history that I had not found in my own research. I convinced a grumpy tour guide at Highgate Cemetery to take me back to the Rossetti family’s plot. (You can read about some stories about my trip on my own blog as well as on my guest blog post for Tabitha Perkins.)


Amy Carol Reeves lives in Columbia, South Carolina where she teaches literature courses at Columbia College and writes young adult novels. When not teaching, writing, or spending time with her family, she likes jogging with her Labrador retriever, Annie, and reading Jane Austen novels. She has published Ripper, (Flux/Llewellyn 2012), Renegade (Flux/Llewellyn 2013). The final book in the Ripper trilogy, Resurrection, will be published by Flux/Llewellyn in 2014. You can check out a post about her recent research trip to London here.


Yup!  You guessed it!  You can WIN a copy of both Ripper and Renegade.  To enter, all you have to do is tell me what your favourite historical era is in the comments below.  I’ll be using random.org to choose the winner on June 10, 2013, so check back to see who wins!

I bet I could guess Amy’s fave.  And I think Victorian might be my favourite as well.  It was the age of technological advances, particularly steam-powered.  Then there was the romanticism, the travel, the dresses, the balls, oh my.  So what’s yours?

11 Responses to “5 Steps to Writing Realistic Historical Fiction – With Amy Carol Reeves”

  1. Connie B. Dowell May 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    Great post. And you’re right, research–especially on location research–is a lot of fun! My favorite period is the 1910s-1920s!

    • C H Griffin May 28, 2013 at 6:35 am #

      Oooh nice. The roaring twenties. Flappers – a stride forward for women, short skirts, and jazz!

  2. Christie May 27, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

    I never would’ve imagined saying this but mine is medieval England– more specifically the time of the Norman Conquest. I fell in love with it while researching my YA novel and often find myself sharing what I’ve learned with friends and family.

    • C H Griffin May 28, 2013 at 6:40 am #

      I don’t blame you. I went to Warwick Castle on one of my trips to England and fell in love. Fascinating time in history!

  3. Debbie Causevic May 28, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    Great post and very helpful. Before beginning the Timebender’s Curse series I did a lot of research on 19th century American history and even made a few authentic meals for my kids. It was great fun. My favorite era…would probably be right alongside Jane Austen searching for a real life Darcy…though if I were born back then, considering the odds, I’d probably have been a maid. 🙂

    • C H Griffin May 28, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

      Haha. Hmm I’m pretty sure I’d be living in a gutter somewhere or dead from some outdated disease LOL

  4. April (@shelfconfession) May 28, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

    Thanks for linking the post from MSC! 🙂

    I still need to read Ripper (my blog partner has) it looks fantastic! 😀

    April @ My Shelf Confessions

  5. Madison Power May 31, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    I have to say 19th century in England where there was all the grand houses and the long proper dresses like in pride and prejudice

    • C H Griffin June 1, 2013 at 5:30 am #

      Love Pride and Prejudice! If you like that, I highly recommend watching the BBC miniseries Lost In Austen. So much fun!

  6. alicia marie June 1, 2013 at 9:04 am #

    My favorite is definitely the 1920’s with all the flappers with short hair and skirts doing the charleston, and all the excitement with women finally being able to do a few more things, like vote : )

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