I’m a fan of verisimilitude in novels, particularly when it comes to historical detail. Although the plots and characters in my novels are (mostly) fictitious, I try to stick as close to “reality” as possible when it comes to “sets and costuming” – not only does this add realism to the work, it lets the reader experience a little slice of 16th century Kyoto.
Many of my characters wear kimono, a traditional Japanese robe worn by both men and women (though with different cuts and styles for different genders). Kimono styles have changed considerably through the ages, so this was a place where detail became important.
In addition to numerous Internet-based resources (some of which will appear in the SHINOBI portion of this website when we roll out the full design in Autumn 2012), I found one printed resource particularly valuable: Robes of Elegance: Japanese Kimonos of the Sixteenth Through Twentieth Centuries, by Ishimura Hayao and Maruyama Nobuhiko contains lovely images of antique kimonos, some of which formed the basis for robes worn by characters in Claws of the Cat (Thomas Dunne Books, scheduled for release in July 2013) and the sequel, Blade of the Samurai (Thomas Dunne Books, July 2014). Others, with minor modifications, will appear in the third Shinobi Mystery, Flask of the Drunken Master.
Observing a real antique kimono helps me describe the patterns with accuracy and also design “similar” fictitious kimono where necessary. Kimono are as much works of art as pieces of clothing – even in the 16th century, they sold for prices that make today’s haute couture look almost bargain-basement by comparison. Many teahouses measured their primary wealth in kimono rather than gold – and although not all kimono were expensive, the range of colors, silks and patterns made many of them true works of wearable art.
Few Westerners have the opportunity to see expensive kimono first hand, or to appreciate the wide range of garments encompassed by this single word. To the extent I can enhance the reader’s experience, even a little, by using “real” garments in my novels, I think the result is well worth the research hours!
What do you think about research and verisimilitude in novels, historical or otherwise? Hop into the comments and let me know!