What’s harder, writing in the past, present, or future?

The past!

Let me clarify. I’m not talking tense, I’m talking time period.

For my new boggy friends, my current WIP is an historical urban fantasy. It’s fun, but there are a lot of little things to keep in mind – which means research.


  • Locations of natural and man-made places
  • Building architecture
  • Inventions
  • Medicines
  • Clothing
  • Proper etiquette
  • Speech patterns
  • Social-gender-economic considerations

Most of the stuff I have to research won’t actually show up in the story, but to have a grasp of the era, I need that information. Some is easy to find, some is more difficult.

It all slows down the writing. It’s true some things can wait until after the first draft, but I’m finding several things that cannot.

Anyone find themselves in this situation? Recommendations?

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Updated: November 23, 2016 — 11:33 am


  1. I love historicals. It’s my comfort read. And I love it especially for all the research the author puts into it. The more realistically he portrays the time period the more it delights me.

    Museums are the best place to get historical information, and many now offer “online” tours. But I’ve found actually being able to touch or see items from that era more useful to my writing.

    I’m anxious to hear more about your book. It’s a genre that never gets ‘old’ for me. 🙂

    1. It seems to help me if I see stuff at a museum or visit the park or whatever.

  2. Beware of the dreaded historical anachronism!

    1. Oh yeah, ’cause it will surely bite you in the, um, somewhere.

  3. I love historical novels. I truly wish I could write them, but in all honesty I’m intimidated by the amount of research it takes. That’s why I decided to write about the future instead. But all those details in historical novels are what I love about them. I so appreciate anyone who can make the past come alive through authentic detailing. So, yes, the research must be difficult, but it pays off for the reader in so many ways if you can figure out how to weave it into the writing.

    1. I had no idea what I was getting into. The story just needed to start there.

  4. I have a junkyard full of parts and pieces of researched material I had to edit out of my MS. But better to over research than to make mistakes that readers will catch and then give you poor comments on amazon. That’s my philosophy.

    1. So true! I wonder if a historian make for a good beta reader.;)

  5. Well, i write fantasy, so i pretty much ignore all that stuff and make my own crap up.

  6. Not really. I hear that this is just something you need to acknowledge takes a lot of time and just grit your teeth and do it. 🙁

  7. I have a post coming up at the writers dojo tomorrow on research. I’ve written two novels that required a lot of historical research. It’s my favorite part of the process.

    1. I won’t miss that post!

  8. Yep, that’s why I try to avoid writing historicals, although even in fantasy writing research needs to be done. That’s why I love the internet. It’s a great way of capturing the feeling of an era. But don’t trust everything you find on the net.

  9. but this research is exactly is what makes the writing process so interesting and fun 🙂

    1. It does.I get lost in it, but I see my finish line getting farther and farther away.

  10. Oh, it’s a challenge all right, and yet I love it so much! When I got the editorial notes back on my book last month and the editor challenged a whole bunch of historical details, I nearly had a heart attack. However, I did research most of those things while I was writing, so they were correct. Yes, I did have to check things she spotted that I didn’t think about and verify things I was 90% sure of anyway.. but I did it.

    Thanks heavens for the internet. There’s more and more historical documents on there all the time!

  11. I love research, but not the kind that would be required for anything historical. I write in the present, and I have plenty enough to research in our own time.

  12. Future is tough, because it can seem off if you take ti too far. Past is tough, because it needs to be so darn accurate. Now is tough, because everybody knows when you get it wrong. So I guess there’s no easy answer. 🙁

  13. You just slog through it. Some is fun, some is boring. You could always jot down scenes in between, just to keep the story fresh in your mind.

  14. I don’t write historical stories, but my wip has diary entries from about 80 years ago. My research involves watching Downton Abby. 😀

  15. I can see where the research would be time consuming and at times quite difficult, but at the same time add so much to the story. Writing in the past would be difficult for me as I would probably forget and include modern slang. Good luck with your research.

    Thoughts in Progress

  16. I write experimental sci-fi set 4000 BCE and 100 CE. The ancient writers weren’t very concerned about chronology and I still have to use index cards to make a timeline I can rearrange, so I think the past is a little more work.

    The present and the near past (within my lifetime) are easy to mess up though. I saw a movie recently that was set in the ’70’s and the characters were using the post valley-girl “like”, and “I totally didn’t…”

  17. I find the hardest part of writing in the past are the speech patterns but then writing in the present has its problems. I decided to return to a wip that had been put in a pending file for over a year and realised that the technology had changed. People were tapping out texts on old style phones. No one had iphones to pick up emails and not a single character ever mentioned Twitter. Bearing all that in mind I suppose that writing in the future is easiest because you can make everything up.

  18. I think past definitely has to be hardest. There is an expectation of accuracy and if you make mistakes, people will call you on it. You have to get it right, except where to make intentional tweaks to fit your genre (ie: Steampunk). I would have a hard time with future, too, because I think to make it realistic, you need to have some mastery of science so you can make some reasonable leaps forward (except of course with Dystopian where life sort of reverts backward again), but for the most part, I have stuck with near… past as far as the 80s, but I lived through that… future for Apocalypse stuff, but near future… mostly present.

  19. Research! It can be fun. But how would I know? I write mg adventure and picture books. I do have a couple YA historical fiction book ideas residing in my head though. I guess past would be the hardest. It would have to be so precise. So exact. Excellent post. Thanks for reading my interview yesterday over at Nut’s place. *waving*

  20. The past would be so difficult! I can’t even begin to imagine the research you are doing.

  21. I’m always in awe with the amount of researvh writers have to do for historicals. But I love reading them and learning little facts from them. 🙂

  22. I just did a post on the history of infectious diseases and there’s a great PDF with references. Here you go:

  23. I find anything set in the real world challenging. The past is tough as the information might be harder to find. I’m writing in present-day at the moment, and I have to keep stopping to look up detail. Normally I write on other planets and get to make everything up.

  24. I simultaneously love and dislike writing Historical Fiction because of the complexities that come with researching the time period. It can be fun . . . but it’s supposed to go into the writing, and research puts a hold on the writing.

  25. Writing historical fiction is tough. The only time I tried, I made it a steampunk version – so I was allowed a lot more leeway! I loved the research – it’s amazing what you can find out – but it definitely makes it harder!

  26. That is the one genre I will probably never try. I like reading them but not writing them. 🙂

  27. Like Ciara, I doubt I’d try it either. My first YA novel was fantasy and was based on the medieval period. And I mean loosely based on the era. I did a lot of research, but it didn’t matter too much if I fudged on a detail. 😀

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