I'm with Esther. Research is absolutely essential when writing fiction. All fiction, not just a story set in the past. Our stories should feel believable, grounded in reality, in a specific place and time. To do that, we have to get every detail right, have to know what we're writing about.
A chapter book story I wrote (as yet unsold) includes a parakeet and an accordion. Luckily, I owned a funny green parakeet when I was ten. I remember how my birdie fluttered to the top of the nearest curtain rod whenever I let him out of his cage. I remember stroking his velvety head with a fingertip. I remember his garbled chirps that never quite became the distinct "Hello, there!" I was hoping for. I remember cleaning the cage. Ugh. That memory is very vivid.
Still. Ten was a long time ago. So before writing the story, I studied parakeets in a pet store and read how-to books for bird owners and visited message boards on the internet, etc. I traded e-mails with my bird-raising cousin, who schooled me about some of her birds' personality quirks.
I've always had a soft spot for accordions, too. I know what they look like. How they sound. Still. A trip to a music store gave me an up-close-and-personal look at them (oh, the sparkles!). YouTube allowed me to hear them played and taught me more than I needed to know about bellows and reeds and chord buttons and fingering. A writer friend sent photos of her nephew, a hulking accordion parked on his lap, that helped me imagine exactly how that would feel to a 9 year old. No wonder I often had dreams during that time in which I was playing the accordion, my right-hand fingers flitting up and down the keyboard (I wish!) while those on the left danced across the oompah buttons.
Was all that research necessary? After all, I was writing fiction, for heaven's sake.
Hey, chill out. You're MAKING IT UP. You don't need to research.
Yeah. If ever your inner voice whispers something like that, put a sock in it.
It's our responsibility to the story and to our young readers to get the details right. How else can a reader lose himself in the story, feel as though he's experiencing it right along with the main character?
Research. Just do it.
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