Saturday, December 26, 2009

To be accurate, or not to be accurate...

Writers of historical fiction sometimes find themselves in a bit of a quandary. If you don't get it right, someone will know and will tell you. If you don't include enough of the history, armchair historians will be unhappy that the history is little more than wallpaper for the book, while those not so much into the history will be bored if there's too much.

Dialogue. Now there's a mess waiting to happen. Keep the dialogue too true to the period and it can come off sounding stilted and can be jarring for the modern reader. Make it too modern, and it will pull the reader out of the setting.

I suppose the question for me is not so much "do I want to be accurate?" as it is "how can I strike the right balance?" I think this is very hard, and trying to please as many readers as possible can be a challenge.

So as a reader, how do you prefer your historicals? Meaty, or just enough history to give the story a sense of place?

6 comments:

Courtney Price said...

I've thought about this a lot. I like accuracy, but I don't want to be bogged down. I often like it if an author has a section with more notes at the back-- if I want more, I can delve in, if I don't (or I already know) I can just skip it. That being said, I like period speech, I'm just not sure if we can execute it that well as writers :) I mean, have we lost some of the flow? Will people look back on 2000 and know that when you read "I am so going to the mall" that you should read "I am SO going to the mall"? :)

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Courtney, I love it! Your opinions as a reader match my own. And you're right- I don't know that we ever get it right as writers. I suppose the key now is to try for period accuracy without having it sound stilted.

jenny said...

When reading historical fiction I want to feel transported to that time and place with the characters. Often, small references to an historical event will prompt me to go research it out. However, I don't want so many details that I'm waiting for the quiz at the end of the chapter. I like stories that are character driven. If the character is believable and interestingly written into the history, I'm good.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Ok, Jenny, I'm thinking you're my "ideal reader." You've totally encapsulated what I try to do. I think it's a balance of trying to weave the characters into the setting without hitting the reader over the head with the research.

Karlene said...

Totally agree with both Courtney and Jenny. If it's a true historical (as in biographical-ish), the history better be there and it better be accurate.

But if it's like your Isabelle Webb book--where the REAL story is the mystery and the romance--too much history is going to slow it down. I want just enough to put me in the right setting with the right feel to it.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

I agree, Karlene. Isabelle needs a lighter hand- the Civil War series was a little more history intensive.