Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Writing Wednesday 35: Playing With History

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This week I’m talking about the ever-present issue of how accurate you need to be in historical fiction. Different writers take different approaches to this: I framed this video around discussion of a single passage in Wayne Johnson’s excellent novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Johnson’s a brilliant writer, but his approach to the primacy of fact in historical fiction is very different from the approach I take both as a writer and a reader.

My sensibilities as a reader of historical fiction were shaped by Sharon Kay Penman and Margaret George, both of whom I read at a very young and impressionable age. I’ve always appreciated writers who put an “afterword” at the end of the novel telling you where they deviated from known history. I do this myself, and a reviewer once mocked me — actually made fun of me — in a review, for this slavish devotion to facts. But I like facts. I think the airy castles of fiction need to be built on a solid foundation of historical fact — and that means getting the historical, geographical, and cultural details correct as much as you possibly can. I do, however, appreciate that other readers and writers may take a different view. What do you think?


One thought on “Writing Wednesday 35: Playing With History

  1. I am not a novelist, but I appreciate good work in which it is clear that the writer has an abiding respect for historicity. Like you, I am driven a bit crazy by obvious inaccuracies, especially if the story would suffer no harm from conforming to the past as it was. I have attempted short short stories, and often have found myself stopping to research some detail to which I have just referred. Finding that I didn’t know what I was writing about, I have sometimes trash-canned the whole effort rather than display my ignorance, even though the potential audience might be enumerated on my fingers.

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