I’m in the process of writing a piece of historical fiction, based in first century Macedonia. Though the work is fiction, there is a huge amount of research that goes into the development of the story. Clothing, food, religious practices, vocations and geographical studies all play a part in the setting and set-up.
Finding reliable sources can be a challenge. Religious works are usually vague or absent of concrete details, and historical data can be politically skewed and conflicting, and usually relies on the objectivity of the researcher.
In school we were taught to find multiple resources. With the internet, it is easy to find information—often too much is available. The challenge becomes sifting through piles of speculation and opinion to glean accurate information and truth. And even then, how do you know for sure?
My rules have become basic. First, as I study through articles and essays, I look for archeological evidence and historical documentation. I compare commonly accepted fact with what the evidence shows. Next, I find corroborating sources. I look for two to three unrelated resources that say the same thing. Thirdly, I look for details within those articles that propel the story I want to tell. Interesting tidbits that don’t help my story are useless to me.
Lastly, I rely on my gut instinct. If the story idea took hold of my brain in the first place, why? What was it that was important enough to latch on and develop? I look for information that develops that hook. If I’m hooked, the reader will be, too.
What works for you in researching for a story?