Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: history

Money is fundamental to our lives but taboo in polite conversation…much like sex. But just like sex, money is one of the main drivers of human behavior. And what do we pattern our characters’ behavior on? Yup. Exactly.

Now, of course, I would never be so crass as to suggest that any of our protagonists are motivated by such indelicate—even sordid—things such as money or sex (*rolls eyes, but soldiers on*). Protagonists are always ultimately convinced to act solely from altruism, and villains are the ones who simply must be avaricious and lustful. (*accidentally rolls eyes so hard I fall over backward*)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Except, sex and money are just shorthand proxies for deeper, more complex psychological stimuli. In this case, ‘sex’ as a motivator encompasses everything from our biological impetus to procreate—because the world by now totally needs more humans *eye roll…OW!*—to the pleasures and comforts of companionship.

‘Money’ is the stand-in for scarcity, acquisition, and competition for what we need to survive, from basics like food and water to the finer points of existential fulfillment.

And, while plotting is totally Kristen’s wheelhouse, it’s safe to say all plots boil down to one basic premise: a character wants/needs/lacks something and must overcome obstacles to obtain it.

No matter what genre we write, character motivation matters. Therefore, money matters.

Haves, Have-Nots, and Have-a-Snickers-Cait-You’re-not-Yourself

I am not the kindest editor, and I’m a downright PMS-ridden-harpy when it comes to historical anachronisms.

Wanna trigger the transformation? Just drop any of the following little gems into prose:

Characters using generic ‘gold coins’ to pay for bread and cheese (a whole other rage topic for another time);

WORSE, using those same coins across international borders (because universal currency, exchange rates, and value of goods was so standard and easily handled. Genghis Khan’s forced standardization of currency conversion across his empire is a totally underrated achievement of his. Too bad Europe was all like, “Yeah, no, thanks, we’re good with our seventy-five-and-counting different currencies. Try back next century, yeah?”);

Money, writing, history, historical fictionLook, I get that researching and figuring out how to include depictions of money sounds about as much fun as listening to Gilbert Gottfried read Strunk & White at open mic night. But, we just have to suck it up and look at it as penance for our sins. Or something like that.

Wanna see the harpy pop out again? Give me a servant girl with more wardrobe changes than a Lady Gaga concert. Or the poor farming family whose feisty, independent daughter is always buying and reading books. Or the Regency version of the Mary Sue Shopping Spree.

Quick, anybody got a Snickers? I’m feeling a little peckish.

Money doesn’t grow on trees

Here is the most important tip for using ye olde economics in historical fiction:

Ask questions.

What questions, you ask? (OMG, stop me, I’m so punny!)

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

ALL the questions, because to paraphrase/absolutely slaughter Socrates: we’re not always smart enough to know what we don’t know.Here’s a basic set of questions I use:

Where (literally) in the world are the characters? What are the local industries, geographical resources, etc.? Ship-building on the coast, sheep-shearing inland.

What are the major imports/exports of that region or country at the time? Robin Hood didn’t ever eat corn-on-the-cob (corn is SO 1492!).

What do the characters do for a living? How much is the wage or income for that time period/region/profession/social status? What would the modern equivalent be? The world wasn’t just nobles, peasants, and beggars. There were comfortable—even wealthy—craftsmen, tradesmen, physicians, lawyers, accountants, etc.

What is the currency of the region/country? What were the denominations in use? Was currency used at all, or was it a barter system? Nowadays, who remembers the French ‘franc’? How about the French ‘livre’ or ‘louis d’or’? Okay, yes, I do, but I’m a nerd.

Did they have servants? How many and what kind? What did they pay them? Elbow grease was the original renewable energy source, and even relatively poor families might have a ‘girl’ come in once a week to help out.

What exactly would a character own? Capsule wardrobe or queen’s trousseau?

If you are feeling a little freaked and a lot overwhelmed by the seemingly enormous, torturous research paper I have just assigned you…don’t. This is fiction, and while relative accuracy is necessary, footnotes are not required.In fact, I’m about to show you how to cheat.

My money’s on the answer…

I totally get it that not everyone dreams about spending hours organizing one’s non-fiction library by time period-topic-region. *cough*

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

So, for those out there who just want to get the job done, I present…the quick and dirty way to research just about anything for historical fiction.

Make sure you have a way to organize the research you gather because the last thing any writer wants is to find that *exact* detail we needed, then waste hours trying to find that page again.

Always start with Wikipedia. Print out or save the relevant articles. Make note of dates, places, foreign language words that will need translation if used in the story, specific terms, etc.

Don’t click away yet! Scroll down to the bottom and look at the footnotes! There’s gold in them thar hills! The cited books and articles are the next level of resources for when there’s time/interest.

Next up? Ask Dr. Google. The first entry is almost always Wikipedia, but usually the next hits are also established sources. Google also has great ye olde currency conversion links.

If you know an impecunious doctoral student, bribe them with home-cooked food in exchange for help accessing JStor, one of the largest online repositories of scholarly articles. Also, many public libraries and alma maters offer a wide range of research databases.

Often, Google provides the most precise results from Google Books (because Google is a self-referential bastard). Google Books basically is like a mini-Project Gutenberg (where all kinds of out-of-copyright primary sources are available for free download). Google Books will even HIGHLIGHT the relevant phrases on the pages of the book, and you just can’t get more silver-platter-research than that.

Adding it all up

All joking aside, here’s the process in a nutshell:

  • Get your questions ready.
  • Get ready to organize your findings so you can find ’em again.
  • Go to Wikipedia and print the heck out of the articles…and don’t forget the footnotes!
  • Do a Google search to find other professional or academic resources.
  • If you need to dig deeper, go to the public library or use alumni privileges to access JStor and other academic and research databases.
  • Search Google Books for info hidden in rare and out-of-print books, and Project Gutenberg for free, downloadable primary sources.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Time is money

I often get asked, “How long should I spend researching?”

The answer is easy.

It depends.


Money, writing, history, historical fiction

No, really, it does depend on a lot of individually-determined factors, like how familiar we already are with a time period, how comfortable we are with historical research, or even how much mind-numbing 18th-century prose we can take reading before we tear our hair out, wonder WTF we are doing with our lives, and go become meter maids because that looks like so much more fun than this *ish*.

However, I do think a good milestone is when our brains ‘click.’ Certain names, dates, facts, or events keep popping up consistently, and we begin to feel an almost-comfortable familiarity with them. Another good test is when we don’t need our notes to tell our long-suffering significant other/friend/stranger-duct-taped-to-chair/cellmate about the time period and what people lived like and could afford.

Money, writing, history, historical fiction

Like all things in writing (and life, but that’s another dissertation for another time), learning to research money takes time and practice. Luckily for penurious writers, the one thing researching money doesn’t take…is money.

(Unless people want to give me Amazon gift cards so I can make headway on my 35-page book wish list. Then I’ll totally take the money because then I can get more books and make things like this ‘Catalogue Raisonné about money, trade, economics, and shopping in history.)

money, history, writing
Want more of these Catalogues Raisonnes? I have a whole page of them over on my website. Just click the image!


Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $55.00 USD
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, November 16, 2018. 7:00 P.M. – 9:00 P.M. EST

So…how’s NaNoWriMo going for you?

The first 10k words? No problem. Another 5k? I can pants that.

Now…I’m at 18k words with 14 days left…and 0 clues about where to go from here.

Sound familiar? This is what I call ‘The Sticky Middle,’ and it is a treacherous swamp that can swallow even the most accomplished, focused writers. It is the moment when writers are most likely to be pulled under by the forces of writer’s block, insecurity, and exhaustion.

The Sticky Middle is the root cause of 98% (I’m guessing here, but I’m pretty darn sure I’m right) of all unfinished first drafts. This class will teach you how to get out of The Sticky Middle…not just for NaNoWriMo, but for every book you write from now on!

This class will cover:

  • Walking into Quicksand: Half of getting out of The Sticky Middle is knowing how we got in there in the first place…and how to avoid making these early mistakes next time;
  • Maslow Stripping: Assessing where characters are when we get stuck…and what we need to take away from them in order to move forward;
  • The Treasure Map: Making sure we have our eye on the prize (i.e. the ending), and how to use that to get through The Sticky Middle;
  • Stop! Break it Down!: (Couldn’t help myself with that…) A blunt, practical way to tackle the amorphous goo that is The Sticky Middle and wrestle it into realistic, achievable, bite-size steps.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.


About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston with her husband and neurotic dog. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. She likes history, science, Jack Daniels, jewelry, pasta, and solitude.


Today, I am really blessed and honored to have one of my fellow Who Dares Wins Publishing authors, Victoria Martinez, grace my blog with her awesomeness. I know many of you might have pondered writing a historical novel, but where do you start? How can you get the details correct without getting overwhelmed? Maybe you have wanted to write a NF about a time period that is of particular fascination to you. But, again, where do you start? How can you make sense of it all? What details are important? How can we portray a time in history accurately without overwhelming the reader or losing the core of the story?

So today, my fellow WDW author is here to demystify history in writing.

Take it away, Tori…

Reading about history – whether fiction or nonfiction – shouldn’t be an effort. As an avid reader of history myself, I have read far too many books where I find myself struggling to stay interested as the author expounds every point in a professorial tone, which invariably causes flashbacks of boring history lessons in school.

On the other hand, if I’m not falling asleep or searching for the meaning to indecipherable words or translations, then I’m furiously correcting details in the margins and debating dubious points of history to myself or anyone who will listen. Worse case scenario: I’m having a one-sided argument with the author while I drift to sleep with the book in one hand and a French dictionary in the other! (I’m not kidding, this has happened!)

So how does an historical author avoid the pitfalls that plague historical research and writing and keep even the most scrupulous readers happy?

The first challenge of writing about history is that it’s a notoriously tricky subject. Full as it is of vague information and uncertain details, not to mention missing pieces and constant new discoveries, it’s important to realize that some mistakes may not be the author’s fault. You can only work with the information that is available to you at the time, and if you want to wait for the “final word” on the subject then you’ll never write a book on history.

The most important thing to remember in this regard is to follow leads carefully and insure that the information you are using is the latest and best available. If you discover new information, great, but make sure you validate it with more than one source. Never rely on just one primary source of information, especially in nonfiction. As always, you have a little more creative freedom in fiction, but you still run a risk – especially if the information pertains to your primary storyline.

Where information is vague or uncertain, use it in a way that won’t damage your main point or story. In other words, if you don’t know enough about something, use it sparingly and carefully, if at all, to avoid a major pitfall. Better yet, use that uncertainty to your advantage. In nonfiction, uncertainties bring about questions and intrigue that can make your book more interesting, while in fiction they can provide suspense or drama to your storyline. For instance, the uncertainty of who was Jack the Ripper has made many books – both fiction and nonfiction – more interesting and creative.

Lastly, remember that missing pieces and new discoveries are out of your control. If something is discovered after your book is published, there’s not much you can do about it. You can, however, make sure your reader knows that YOU know you are not the last word on the subject. Especially where nonfiction is concerned, never claim your work is the definitive “last word” on the subject. It is not and never will be.

The second problem of writing about history is a bit easier – relatively speaking – to address: the writing itself. Often, authors simply get too “authorial” and scholarly. The solution to this is just don’t write like that! Unless you’re writing a history textbook or a scholarly paper, very few people are going to truly enjoy your book if you write like a professor (with all due respect to professors). Make your writing engaging and entertaining so the difficult parts of the history don’t seem challenging or incomprehensible.

After all, history really isn’t that hard to understand if it’s presented in the right way. And the right way means not filling your book with a litany of dates and events without plenty of enjoyable details and engaging dialogue, action or description. Also, PLEASE provide translations to words or phrases in foreign languages. Not everyone speaks French, Italian, etc., and therefore won’t know what that lovely little phrase you added in actually means. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves when the author expects the reader to do the translation work themselves. It makes the reader frustrated and the author seem imperious and presumptuous.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of many historical writers by getting so wrapped up in the main story or subject that you fail to pay attention to detail or context, which always results in a confusing and frustrating read. For instance, if you’re writing a fiction novel about the 18th century, don’t have your characters use words or phrases that originated in the 20th century. The same applies to nonfiction: if you want to describe a place, choose to use descriptions contemporary to that time rather than modern impressions of that time. It may take extra time and effort on your part, but the result is a better and more enjoyable read. Plus, you won’t have readers cursing at you from a distance.

Ultimately, it’s important to remember that you’ll never please everyone. Even if you’re an expert on a subject, it’s likely someone will find fault with what you write. This, of course, is true for any kind of writing. Fortunately, excellent research combined with engaging writing can produce works of history that not only keep your readers happy, but also stand the test of time, even if the facts change (and they most likely will).


Want more tips and information on how to start writing about or improve your writing on historical subjects? Victoria is teaching an online class, “Historical Research and Writing,” through Who Dares Wins Publishing Write it Forward Workshops. There first class runs through February and the second through April, and the cost is only $20. That is a super small price to pay for techniques that will take your works to a higher level than you thought possible, so sign up today!!!

Victoria Martinez is the author of the Kindle best-selling “An Unusual Journey Through Royal History” and “The Royal W.E.,” both published by Who Dares Wins Publishing.

Okay, so I hope you guys will leave lovely comments and ask questions. Today, everyone who comments will get double entries in my critique give-away. This is to inspire you guys to reach out despite your shyness and give Tori some Comments Love.

That and, frankly, I admit is. I LOVE hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: Had a flat tire this morning, so didn’t get to pick last week’s winner. Will announce that on Wednesday’s post.

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!

Happy writing!