I’ve been following a link on Absolutewrite.com about the question of historical accuracy. It’s been an interesting debate, especially among writers. But I find myself arguing the point- why do we always have to be accurate? Isn’t the “fiction” part of historical fiction where we, as writers, step in and make a story tantalizing?
I realize as a historical fiction writer you’re holding yourself to a a high standard of being a know-it-all researcher that can divulge ancillary details about a given time period or character. We are bookworm types that romanticize events and real-life figures.
That being said, while I agree we are knowledgeable, most of us are hardly the expert about our topics. It’s true I’ve spent a year and a half reading or watching anything I can get my hands on about my topic; but I would never call myself an EXPERT, with a capital “E”. I leave that to the historians.
Why then, do so many who read historical fiction get in a wad over our manipulation of the intangible parts of history…or even the factual minutia that surrounds an event? Our readers aren’t typically an authority about the topic and, frankly, neither are we. We just happen to really love the person we’re writing about, or the time period, or the location.
I certainly believe it’s my job to make a historic topic relevant through my character’s emotions. Safeguarding major facts is also a must in my books. The rest is fair game, as far as I’m concerned!
I suppose the real problem is that historical fiction writers present information in different ways, leaving far too much room for skepticism and comment.
Maybe all the uproar comes about because people read this genre for fun AND for information. It’s a softer way to learn about history, I suppose. Though I must say it’s the reader’s fault if they take every word as truth.
It’s a slippery slope we must walk upon; balancing emotional insight while keeping the language and the actions of the story appropriate to the times. But it’s certainly a challenge we HisFic writers relish; the way a Sci-Fi writer delights in the description of a phenomenon or super power. Or the way I relish a dirty Spanish wine served with espinacas con garbanzos.
I suppose my grand point is this: POETIC LICENSE is what makes the great art of writing, even writings based on true events, engrossing and exciting!