Cynthia Shannon
Cynthia Shannon asked Sharon Kay Penman:

How do you know how much of your fiction you can invent in your books, and how much needs to stay true to historical accuracy? How much research do you do before you say, "Enough! I'll take it from here!" ?

Sharon Kay Penman Hi, Cynthia. I am obsessive=compulsive about historical accuracy, so staying true to what we know about the past is always at the forefront when I begin a new book. The Plantagenets, especially the Angevins, lived such wildly improbably lives that they provide me with a wealth of rich drama to work with. It is my responsibility then to take those ingredients and whip up a recipe that my readers will find palatable. As for research.....well, many years ago, I saw Truman Capote on the Johnny Carson show. Johnny asked him how he knew when a book was done. He said, "Lord, I never know. Eventually they just come and take it away from me." Well, that is my research method, too. I never say "Enough!" I do general research of a period and the people before I begin a book, for I have to create an outline of the story, have to decide what must be dramatized and what can be described offstage. But I continue to do specific research as I write; for example, I will research a particular town or castle if a chapter is set there. I did a lot of research about typhoid fever since one of my characters in Outremer probably died of that disease. I am now doing serious research for a battle I am about to fight. Writing historical fiction is a bit like walking a tightrope. It is important to give the reader a strong sense of time and place. At the same time, readers don't want to be overwhelmed by details or an information "dump." It is important to weave the important facts into the storyline itself. And writers learn how to do that by trial and error, with some help from our editors.

About Goodreads Q&A

Ask and answer questions about books!

You can pose questions to the Goodreads community with Reader Q&A, or ask your favorite author a question with Ask the Author.

See Featured Authors Answering Questions

Learn more