I have found that whenever I try to discuss historical accuracy in historical
fiction, especially in historical romance, the same responses pop up. So
much so that I'm getting bored with them and tempted to wave my hand, sigh
and say "Whatever."
1. "It's only fiction." That response trashes the nature of the novel
and the nature of fiction. It tends to show that the responder is either
parroting the response he or she has heard elsewhere or really doesn't
know what the novel is, or what fiction means. The novel is a highly
artificial construct made of several recognizable features. I think
every author should at least know that, or come to realize it as s/he
writes. But sometimes they don't. Fiction, similarly, doesn't mean you
can make up what the hell you like, it is again a recognizable construct
and bounded by understandings. If a writer has something they want to
bring to that, and the example that springs to mind is Truman Capote's
"In Cold Blood," then they are at liberty to do so, but it's nice if,
like Capote, they know exactly what they're doing and why they want to
do it. Even better if they can explain to a room full of academics, who,
in this case, are the gatekeepers.
2. "The story comes first." Hell, yes, of course it does, but that isn't
a reason to traduce history in the telling of it. Just incorporate the
real stuff or call it fantasy. There are some superb fantasies that take
a medieval world as its base ("Lord of the Rings" anyone?) but also
introduce other ideas. Just don't call it history if it isn't.
Alternative history, like "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" is also an
exciting way to go.
3. "The readers don't care." Demonstrably, they do. You can sell
humongous numbers of historical romance that have very little relation
to the era they claim to be set in and get away with it, but I firmly
believe that was one of the factors that led to the collapse of the
historical romance genre a few years ago. The readers moved away from
the paper-thin walls towards the paranormal romances, many of which take
the same construct (putting made-up characters into a recognizable
world) and make it more real seeming.
4. "You can have a success without fussing too much about the history."
Yes, you can, but that, IMO, is short-changing the readers. Even if they
don't know, many can sense it's not right because the setting isn't
fully depicted, or they sense something about a character. And you're
limiting your readership. Publishers think in the relatively short-term,
they don't care if a writer only has a few years' success and then fades
away because there are plenty more waiting. And if you have respect for
yourself and your integrity as a writer, then you'll take more care.
5. "I want to read a novel, not a text book." As if making lists and
over-description aren't symptomatic of bad writing in any genre. This
one exasperates me, because no good historical fiction writer would
dream of overwhelming the reader with facts and details. When you write
a novel, it's like the tip of the iceberg. You put in what you need to
put in, but you need the confidence and the knowledge to put it in and
not to insert the wrong thing. You need to know all these facts if you
want to create a living, breathing character in a vivid background. Your
reader doesn't. I don't read SF romance for the details of how a
spaceship works, I read it for the story, but if the writer has an
inconsistent world, I won't bother reading further.
*Lynne Connolly, author of Dark and Provocative Romance
A murder... A lord's desire...and her quiet, respectable life is gone
Tantalizing Secrets from Samhain Publishing
<http://samhainpubli shing.com/ romance/tantaliz ing-secrets>
*_*http://www.lynnecon nolly.com/ TantalizingSecre ts.html*_