How historically accurate do you like your fiction to be?

 

I'm just starting to think of a blog post I want to write, eventually, about the dilemna of historically accurate historical fiction. I was reading a children's historical fiction book with my boys, and the main character is a young girl, and in the introduction the author acknowledges that her character is much more outgoing and adventerous and basically that a young girl would not be allowed to do anything like her character does. So I've been thinking about that since. Do we do a service or disservice to children exposing them to a glossed over version of history, less oppressive, less gory, etc than reality? On the other hand, if we visit historical fiction was accurate would we be able to relate to it?

 

Any ideas....? (I promise I won't quote you for my blog post without permission.)

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Hey there, Christy!

I am a historical fiction author (still yet to be published, but you can check some of my work at http://montjoye-en.tumblr.com), and while the book I am working on is directed at a mature audience, I intend in following it with a children's book.

So, answering your question, I believe we do a service in presenting History to children gradually, increasing the "gore and injustice" levels as they grow up. The most typical example of this is king Richard I of England, or as people know him, "Richard the Lionheart". You don't need to tell kids he was a bully who barely stepped in England, didn't even speak English and said he would sell London if he could find a buyer to fund his expedition to the Third Crusade. Can you imagine what this would do to Robin Hood tales?

Kids need first and foremost stories that will help them learn good values and how to overcome obstacles and challenges. Then, as they grow and learn about History and school, true historical accuracy can be introduced in the historical fiction they read.

This, of course, is my humble opinion.

Hope I helped! 

I think it would be a little scary to slam with the brutality of history and its actors. Though they see more violence before age 10 than we ever did before 30, I just can't justify it, as parent or writer. At a book signing this weekend, I was asked if my story of the three kings was appropriate for a 13-year old. I hesitated, but the mom said, "well she's read Hunger Games already." Well, then... this is nothing compared to that level of violence.

 

They will learn (as we did) how cruel people how, how bloody the world is, and how awful we can be to one another.

You always pick the appropriate books for the appropriate maturity of the class.  One of the assignments we did in a senior English class was to read children's books on the Holocaust.  My students had to identify who the books would appeal to based on illustration, print, words....then analyze what age group the message fit.  It was always an interesting class assignment.

Having taught for 35 years I agree that reading historical fiction in school can be done throughout school ages.  Also introducing them to "real" characters will give them a tie to the history lessons we want them to learn.

Hi, I'm new to the site so I'm barely catching up to the forum.

 

Firstly, the two points here need be separated for better analysis; HisFic and Children's.

 

I love children but don't have any of my own, nor (unfortunately) do I have the joy to work with children on a daily basis. So, on this point I have nothing to say.

 

As far as historic accuracy is concerned, I think it should be the author's priority to maintain the utmost accuracy possible. The infamous 'artistic license' card should be withheld like a 'Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free' card and used only in the most dire of situations, namely when the author has written himself into an absolute corner.  

 

Now, there is no way that any of us can know for sure what any period of time before our own was actually like. It is only speculation. But this speculation must be backed with thorough research and an honest look at human nature as seen in our own times.

 

The most annoying flaw I find in hisfic is that some authors are incapable of seeing the past from the point of view of the past. The characters and story inevitably grow a smug tone of comical contempt for the 'ignorance' of people who lived before us. I say: if they had not succeeded in life, we would not be here today.

 

I suggest that, in order to appreciate a given period of time (and hence better describe it), the author research the period of time immediately before it. Why? Once the author is immersed in the period before (and I am talking about reading books and watching documentaries until the eyes bleed) the transition to the period that follows will be one of wonder; one seen through the eyes of somebody from the past, not the future.

 

For example, looking at it from the present, an author can describe how cumbersome loading a musket was. Looking at it from the past, the author can look with amazement at this device which hurls balls of lead with such thundering force as to kill a man (hence any effort necessary to load this device is meaningless for the sake of making this magic happen!) The author can now take it a step further, and describe a man who has fired a musket for ten years and feels completely cynical about it (he can load it flawlessly even while drunk, much to the amazement of our young protagonist).

 

That aside, I think a good HisFic will lure readers to relate to it because of common ideals we all strive for in life: love, affluence, reconciliation, motherhood, popularity, etc. The key, I think, is to see how these are sought after and attained within a different set of social rules. And let me say that again; a different set, of often far more rigorous, social rules. Therein lays the magic a good Hisfic.

 

-GF

 

 

 

 

 

I feel the rule should be to write in a way that is honest, truthful, and will allow the reader to walk in the shoes of the time era being discussed....this often means being mindful of the information shared about the setting.  When teaching world literature I would have my students research PERSIA:  The Politics, Economics, Religion, Social, Intellectual and Aesthetics of the country and times.  This would give them a more authentic perspective in analyzing the novel and determining if the historical fiction was accurate and just.

Hello everyone,

I've just discovered that interesting discussion here, though it was started almost a year ago ... Well, I think it always concerns us historical writers. It depends on what historical episode you want to write and it means you'd have to read and learn a lot. The longer ago, the harder it might be, as you can only rely on facts and your sources. Everything has to fit, regarding the great inventions of human kind, the fashion, the things that were in use. It would be impossible to describe every single stone exactly.

To my experience, as I write about the 20th century, it's a greater dilemma. You think it's modern times and that's why you've got to be careful not to give your characters all the convenient stuff that was invented during the 20th century and especially after World War 2, like the joy and pride of every housewife, a washing machine ... You have to be very thourough and precise in your descriptions, because there might be readers - in the best case friends you give your work to read and who will tell you confidentially - who might get mad.

Hi Christy - I'm a new member, so my reply will be too late to include in your post - but wanted to share my thoughts here.  I've published 5 novels with major publishing houses - 2 of them historical fiction situated in the Victorian era.  The second one, Romancing Miss Brontë, (which I wrote as Juliet Gael) was serious biographical fiction, and from the beginning I had no intention of doing anything other than portraying the lives of the Brontë sisters accurately within an authentic historical context. However, with The Tailor's Daughter, which was pure fiction, I created a female character who had a truly contemporary feel - a young woman who was not made of the same fabric as the women of the time, and who refused to abide by the rigid codes.  There have always been girls and women who have rebelled against expectations and cultural norms - there still are today - but as an author, the wonderful thing about writing these characters is that they are faced with these obstacles and must overcome them in order to achieve their dreams. A good writer will create consequences for her character - what will she lose by challenging the status quo?  Her family's respect? Her friends? Her life? Why is she so driven to be different and what will she gain  if she succeeds??  Food for thought - Janice

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