Fact and Fiction

One of the difficulties of writing historical fiction is getting the facts right. I love reading this genre and I’m not knowledgeable enough to identify when things aren’t historically correct. Thank goodness, I’d rather read the story.  I mean I’d know obvious things like the use of technology, style of dress, or even the odd anachronistic word. But that’s as far as it goes. As long as it’s a good story with strong characters leading the plot I’m okay with that.

I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth, and there’s an emotional truth, and what the fiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth.

Jewell Parker Rhodes

I approach my writing in historical fiction like I do any other piece of writing. I get the story down first, I create and get to know my characters and encourage them to tell me what happens. Step by step I follow them through the events and share their experiences and allow them to lead. Only after I’ve got a good framework for a story, which could well be a very dirty first draft, do I start to research and validate the facts. I may look up something if it’s crucial for the story to move forward. And usually it is an historical event which feeds my inspiration, but I try not to let myself get bogged down in the detail. The nitty gritty. That can all come later in the rewrite.

For example,  in The Duke’s Shadow,  the main character was based on a real Duke (the 5th, and last, Duke of Portland). In fact it was a tiny piece written in a book which set my muse on fire and a lot of his behaviour was re-enacted in the story. There were rumours about him and his eccentricity that I used and embellished, in other words I made it up. Yep, it’s fiction!

I have always regarded historical fiction and fantasy as sisters under the skin, two genres separated at birth.

George R. R. Martin

I don’t make any claims to be an expert in history. It is one of the few o’levels I actually passed and I have a keen interest in historical events but I am not an historian by any stretch of the imagination. I know there are a lot of authors out there who are historians first and writers second. Most of them write really well. Some of them don’t. I’ve just recently put down a novel which I couldn’t finish because the writing, the story, wasn’t so great. There was a lot of information dump, too much historical and not enough emotional. For me. As you know, this business of writing is a subjective one. I do not question the qualifications or knowledge of the author but that doesn’t mean that they are able to write fiction. Not unless they learn , understand and execute – at the very least – the basics of story telling.

We all have to start somewhere and I guess it works both ways.


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