Heuristic Rotating Header Image

Novel research

I mentioned last night on Twitter that I was researching Renaissance Italian streetnames, and Chia Lynn asked if I’d share some research resources.

I’m working on a fantasy novel with an Italoid setting – patterned on fifteenth century Tuscany, though without the omnipresent religion. This is a really easy time and place to research, especially since I’m looking for things that give the feel of a particular place and culture, and not at all aiming for historical accuracy. The most useful books have been on art and architecture and landscape photography. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes was also helpful for cultural context.

I also a lot of inspiration from websites like this calendar of Tuscan festivals. When do things happen? What are the local celebrations like? The book doesn’t span an entire year, but I can throw in passing references to these festivals, or just use them to build my own knowledge of the culture so I can portray it more convincingly. Tourist websites have all kinds of useful information, like weather at different times of the year.

One of the best resources out there for historic names is the Medieval Names Archive. Intended for re-enactors, it offers historically-referenced names for a wide range of times and places, and gives more focus than the average baby name list for developing a particular cultural feel.

Wikipedia is wildly useful for the basics of history and culture, and for more esoteric things like Italian profanity. More in-depth information comes from elsewhere, but this is a great place to get started.

Google image search is remarkably helpful. I knew I needed a city with a wall around it, but what might that look like? How about a search for Tuscan city wall?

I’ve also relied heavily on Google maps. How might a walled Italian city be laid out? What are typical street names? I can take a look.

View Larger Map

You can see the outline of where the city wall is, and the layout of the old part of the city inside that delimiter. Zooming in gets street names, including the Viale della Mura Urbane, just what I needed. No guarantee that the names actually date back to the Renaissance, but I wanted descriptive street names. Doing this gave me some insight into how street names work, and what kinds of things might be appropriate. Again, cultural background not historical accuracy, though something extremely out of place could be very jarring to the reader.

I’m a research geek and love doing this kind of work, so I need to be careful to not get carried away and spend all my time worldbuilding and looking up interesting facts. I prefer fantasy novels with rich and well-realized backgrounds, and time spent on worldbuilding and cultural research is crucial.


  1. ChiaLynn says:

    Thank you! I hadn’t seen the Medieval Names Archive – that’s wonderful.

  2. ChiaLynn says:

    Also, and this is just dumb, while I’m using Google Maps for a novel set in London, it hadn’t occurred to me to use it for a story set in a city that’s something like Venice.

  3. Sarah says:

    Lacking the time and money for a trip to Tuscany (would it be tax-deductible at least??), I’ve been looking for ways to creatively use the Internet to get what I need. Most of it’s obvious, like Wikipedia, but it took me a while to think of using Google tools in the ways described.