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I am writing a historical fiction book. I do not have access to historical records/documents/historians so I tend to skip chapters saying I will write them later because I do not have the resources to get accurate descriptions of the setting, clothing, etc. for that chapter.

Is this good practice? I fear that I will mess things up if I jumble up the order of the chapters.

Should I just power through chapters that I have some details I am unsure about and come back to them when I find the adequate resources for that time period?

Or should I do what I am doing and just skip those chapters and come back later once I feel confident in that area of research?

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It should be fine for you to skip certain chapters until you have research material as long as you:

  1. Have an outline of the chapters in which you are skipping. This way you won't have to completely rewrite the other chapters in order to fit them with the research and historical facts.

  2. Know enough about the time period so that you can at least write passably about it. If you can't do this, I would advise waiting to research that time period, so that your work can accurately portray the time period which you are writing about.

  3. And know where your story is going. If you have a set ending, or someplace you know the story will finish, everything you write will go towards that ending, which will also help you know what to research.

But to be honest, it is, in my opinion, most important to have a plan in your writing, that way you can structure your novel around this plan, even if you don't have all of the research you need.

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  • That works foe some writers, but not for all. Some successful writers apparently never planned their work in advance, other use detailed plans including outlines. It depends very much on the writer. – David Siegel Jan 19 at 21:56
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    @DavidSiegel That is true, but in my answer, I was just giving an example of what the OP could do if it worked for them. Personally, this has worked for me in the past which is why I posted it. – Joe Kerr Jan 19 at 21:58
  • when you say that it is "most important to have a plan in your writing" you seem to be suggesting that this is the best practice for all writers. It works very well for many, but not at all well for some. – David Siegel Jan 19 at 22:04
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    l am only saying this because when l write, that is the most important thing for me to do so that i can structure my works. I do not mean to imply that this is the best practice for all writers, only for some who use this to their advantages. – Joe Kerr Jan 19 at 22:21
  • Note that "have an outline" could mean anything from "I have a general sense that the plot will get from situation X to situation Y, and of what events will take it there" to "I have a detailed set of notes on exactly what I want to happen in this chapter." – Kevin Mar 12 at 4:51
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Well, first you write the first draft. Then you rewrite it several times before you have a finished story. (And then you submit it, and if it gets accepted you rewrite several more times...)

The first draft is not the final product, and how you write it depends on what you need to get it done.

Lots of authors write their stories in another order than the chapter order. And then many other authors create books where the chapters aren't in chronological order.

For instance, I try to write in chapter order and keep the chapters in chronological order. I sometimes still have to go back and add to the text when I need a character, or character development, or something else. And then, in the rewriting, I usually have to do even more with it.

If you feel that writing the chapters out of order is a problem, is it a problem that prevents you from writing the next chapter, or is it a problem that you feel that you "should" write the chapters in order?

It's only if it prevents you from writing that it's really a problem.

That being said. Research is important. Not only will it prevent you from adding elements to your novel that will sound strange or untrue, but it can also offer lots of input and ideas.

I think historical fiction is a bit like my genre (sci-fi) in that the research is needed to avoid physically impossible ringworlds, teleporting in the wrong direction, and any number of inconsistencies in history (I can only imagine having an actual source to what actually happened would make any errors seem even more glaring...)

You don't mention why you've started writing while feeling you lack research or why you can't get at it, but while you certainly can keep writing, you obviously need to have all the research in place before you can really call the book (or even the first draft?) finished.

Even though I have most of my research in place I sometimes get myself into places where I've created some situation that doesn't work. It's like; if he's going to do this, and she's going to do that then... all these things can't happen... oh well... back to the drawing board...

I'd probably get even more "oh well"-moments with less research, less world-building, and less character-building...

I can imagine someone using a tool that hadn't been invented or referring to some event that hadn't happened might be a small problem... or a show stopper... Regardless, it will likely force you to do more rewrites or fix more problems...

So, even if it doesn't prevent you from writing... you should probably try to get the research in place first. But if you can't do that, keep going, but expect more rewriting and problem shooting...

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