The Research Process of a Historical Novella by Emily Ann Putzke

My dear friend Emily Ann Putzke's debut novella, It Took a War debuts today!!! And I couldn't be more excited to host her on her book's blog tour and share my thoughts on her fabulous story on Friday. Without further ado, read on for some great research and organization tips, and don't forget to enter her fabulous Christmas Civil War themed giveaway that includes an autographed copy of her amazing debut novella.

Hello fellow writers, bloggers, and book lovers!  I’m Emily Ann Putzke, author of It Took a War, a Civil War novella. I’m so grateful to Meghan for allowing me to guest post on her blog! I’m here to talk a little bit about my book and my research process.

I started writing It Took a War in the fall of 2012, a few months after going on a family vacation to Gettysburg which sparked my interest in learning more about the Civil War. I wanted to write a book about a brother and sister during the war. The plot changed drastically when I re-wrote it the beginning of this year, but not the brother and sister I dreamed back in 2012. Joe and Coralie Roberts have been breathing on paper for over two years and I’m so excited to share them with the world now!

When writing historical fiction, it can be overwhelming with the never ending wealth of information to sort through and apply to your story. I don’t claim to be an expert on researching, but I’ll share what’s helped me and hopefully it will help any of you historical fiction authors out there!

Let’s start at the beginning.
After I pick a time period to write about, I start reading fiction and non-fiction books about it. I get books from the library, but I also love buying used books on Amazon so I can highlight in them. I organized my writing bookshelf so that all my Civil War books were together and easy to access while writing.

I also do a ton of research on the internet and bookmark pages like crazy. Since I was writing about the Civil War, I searched videos on how to load a musket and on Civil War drilling. I also used and they have an amazing animated map of Gettysburg which helped immensely. I printed out articles, highlighted the sections I needed in them, then stuck them in my research binder.

Research binders are wonderful. It makes the writing/editing process much less stressful. I divided the information with little tabs labeled with things like, Camp Curtin, Drills, 11th PA, Army Life, and Enlistment/Rally. I scanned and printed pages out of books, printed internet articles, made (somewhat) organized notes, and highlighted certain passages. It's made life a whole lot easier.

I found all the names of the guys who served in Company I, 11th PA. I used some of these names to create characters. For instance, Joe has three good friends in It Took War. One of them is Oliver Willyard. According to this list of names there was a David Willyard, but I liked the name Oliver better for this particular character. The others were Will and Johnny Story. Those were actual names of guys who were in Company I. I have no idea if they were related, but in my book I made them brothers.

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Pinterest. It’s awesome. I didn't use it much for It Took a War while writing, but I've been using it for my next book and it’s great for collecting old pictures and quotes. If you don’t have Pinterest, you can create a private blog to collect all your character pictures, inspirational writing quotes, plot ideas, website links, etc. That’s what I did with It Took a War.
If possible, go to the place you’re writing about. But this isn't a must. I’m blessed that my sister lives near Gettysburg, so I've been there many times to research for my book. If you can’t get to the place you’re writing about (my next book takes place in Germany...I really want to go there, but I’m not sure it’s a possibility in the next year or so) take a virtual tour. Look up pictures, watch videos, make authentic food, listen to music, and ask others who have been there what it’s like.

Listen to music from the time period you’re writing about. I bought about every single Civil War era song available on itunes (maybe I’m being a little dramatic). I listened to them while washing dishes, while cleaning the house, while working out, while in the car, while writing, etc. They brought the Civil War more alive for me when I was listening to songs soldiers would sing on the march, at rallies, or at camp.

Don’t stress. If you’re writing historical fiction, remember that it’s fiction. Of course you want your book to be historically accurate, but don’t let the research process stifle your creativity. Research, but then stop and just write. Have fun with it! You want your love of history to shine through and spark that interest in someone else.

Thanks again for hosting me, Meghan! You can buy It Took a War through:

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Words, history, and grace color my days here in The Burgh where I seek out the perfect coffee and red lipstick.


  1. I found out about your book through your cover designer's tweet! Thanks for going over your process... I enjoyed it! :-)

  2. Thank you both! And thank you, Meghan, for hosting me on your blog!


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