Monday, January 4, 2016

A Case for Accuracy in Historical Fiction

Last night I read a very clean historical romance. It was spooky, mysterious, romantic, and kept me up until I finished it. It was set in a very specific time and place. Because the author included a time period, I found myself hunting for period details to flesh out the setting--to take it from a sketch to a full technicolor background. Instead anachronisms littered throughout the book kept throwing me from the period. Normally, I would have stopped reading to do some searching on the internet, but it was late, my bed was warm and cozy, and my tablet was in the other room. This morning after fixing my kids breakfast, I started searching and within a few minutes found that my instincts were right. The author hadn't even bothered to do basic research on the time period for her novel. It irritated me enough to write a long Goodreads review pointing out the inaccuracies, then a FB discussion, and finally this blog post.

So why the heck does it even matter if an author works to get historical detail right? Why does it bug me enough to write a review, discuss it on Facebook, and now write a blog post? First, it shows me that the author is lazy. In this case, it did not require a lot of time or effort for the author to do some basic research. If she had done so, she would have discovered she needed to push her timetable forward by at least 10-15 years. Secondly, it demonstrates an arrogance on the part of the author in assuming her readers won't care or won't catch the mistakes. Sadly, based on the reviews I read of the book, no one seemed to catch the inaccuracies and didn't care. Third, it cheapens the whole experience of the book for me. Part of the pleasure of reading a period piece is being immersed in the details of that period.

Why does an author choose a historical setting? In my opinion, an author should choose a historical setting because it is significant to the plot and characters. The culture of the period, the geography of the place, the inventions and technology are all going to affect the outcome of the story. In the story I read yesterday, the anachronisms did affect the story in relation to travel, communication, and religion--and it was set in the wrong period. In other words, the ways the characters communicated, traveled, and practiced their beliefs did not exist in the time period the author chose--which changes the action and movement of the story.

I understand that it is impossible for an author to get every single historical detail right. However, an author should work carefully to be as accurate as possible. Ignoring the importance of historical accuracy in fiction indicates an author unsuited for the genre.


1 comment:

Sarah W said...

Very good post, I agree with every word! Books and films are responsible for much of the ludicrous history myths out there, and historical accuracies do spoil the experience for me. If an author (or director/producer) don't mean to do it tolerably right, why bother?