I recently read a novel by a very, very big name writer in which her character makes reference to a member of her family tree who was burned at the stake during the Salem witch trials.

I don’t think so. In doing my Elizabethan research for a time travel novel, I inadvertently read about these trials. I’ve checked this information again since reading the above mentioned novel, and am convinced that there were no burnings in Salem. The “witches” were hung although I think one gentleman was pressed to death. Burnings were generally held in Britain and Europe, sometimes after the victim had been strangled.

Now, this may seem like a small thing but I was disappointed that this bit of research had been overlooked. I guess we could say that it was the character’s relative alone who was burned at the stake and that it was never documented. If so, this should have been something the character explained in the book. After all, do you want to rely on a bunch of savvy readers who know their stuff to give you the benefit of the doubt? Trust me, readers love to catch you when you stumble.

Years ago I wrote a book set in Alaska, somewhere I’d never been (under the ‘write what you know’ rule). Because I pride myself on being as accurate as possible, I actually phoned someone at the chamber of commerce and asked him what he saw when he looked out his west-facing window. Did he think I was crazy? Probably, but he didn’t hang up on me and I got to know if he was looking at the ocean or at mountaintops It mattered to me, and it most likely mattered to the people living in that city in Alaska.

Research is vital! Editors look for it and quite rightfully expect the facts in your story to be accurate. Do yourself a favour and make sure there are no holes in your manuscript. Editors will love you for it, and you will make the very best name for yourself.


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