Way back in March, I accepted an AU (alternative history challenge) at The Delphic Expanse: put our heroes in a specific historical period and what happens? Luckily, my assignment happened to be a period that I have plenty of interest: Renaissance Italy. I set my story in 1484 (late 15th century) Venice and Milan.
I needed to do tons of research for this story; that much I expected. As the plot unfolded, I had to dig deeper in certain areas of Renaissance life. My Muse chattered at high speed and gestured with her hands to emphasize her point. "A huge wedding! A duel! Surgery! Elaborate costumes and wooden sailing ships!" I combed Books a Million, Borders, and Amazon.com, as well as the local used bookstore. The Internet became a godsend with the specifics.
What did the upper class nobility wear on a daily basis?
How did they design their clothing? (One of my main characters was a seamstress). How did they get around the usury laws, which forbade them from overly elaborate clothing?
Italy in 1484 was a collection of city-states (there wasn't a united Italy until the late 19th century). Who ran the show in each of them?
What did sailors and naval officers wear? (two of my characters were a sea captain and his first lieutenant)
Architecture and engineering during that time? (I also had an engineer and an architect).
Distances between Milan, Venice, Naples, London and Plymouth (England)? (No car, plane, train, TARDIS, transporter or Stargate at that time).
Exactly where were the trade routes going to the East?
Gondoliers in the Venetian canals? (And a gondolier).
DIalects between the city-states? (Venice, Milan and Naples had their own dialect...there wasn't a common language at the time).
Surgery and medical practices? (Had two doctors, and the first lieutenant was injured during a street fight)
Betrothal and wedding ceremonies? (Had a double wedding at the end of the story).
Church affairs and the Inquisition? (The Spanish Inquisition was going on, one of the characters came from the East and wasn't a Christian, another character was a cousin of Queen Isabella (yes, THAT Isabella, married to Ferdinand and who sent Columbus on his way), mentioned two cardinals and the Dominican Friars of the Inquisition)
Duelling practices? (The villain challenged one of the main characters to a duel.How did they do it, what was the custom, was it to the death or to the pain?)
Weaponry? (knives, rapiers, swords, daggers, stilettos (for women).Yes, they did have firearms and cannons during that time, but pistols weren't popular in duels until the late 16th/early 17th century, and at the time firearms were a real danger to the shooter as well as the target. But the nobility DID have them)
Quite a laundry list, but I enjoyed looking up the facts and details that brought 15th century Italy to life. One pitfall to research was the tendency to get so wrapped up in it and forget to write! The story needed to be about the characters and their situation, not what they ate for lunch. It was easy to get carried away with description and detail and not move the plot forward. There had to be a balance between the two.
The whole project took me longer than I expected, but I was rather sad when the story ended. In true Shakespearean fashion, the lovers had their weddings and all's well that ended well.