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Am I the only one...?

For discussions of historical fiction. Threads that do not relate to historical fiction should be started in the Chat forum or elsewhere on the forum, depending on the topic.
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Rowan
Bibliophile
Posts: 1462
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Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
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Am I the only one...?

Post by Rowan » Wed August 12th, 2015, 1:12 pm

Believe it or not, I'm a writer. I don't write historical fiction. All of you do it far better than I ever could. ;)

A few months ago, I joined a writer's group that meets at the library near my house. One of the latest submissions for this week's meeting is what appears to be historical fiction. I don't know, though, because anything I try to look up is non-existent. So I'm left wondering...

My question, though, is, am I the only one who looks up information that appears in historical fiction to see how close the author chose to stay with what really happened? Should I admit that I do this? Mostly I do it out of curiosity. Of course I like to see how different writers treat the same subject, but sometimes I go long periods between reading books on the same subject and can't remember details. And I know different authors will choose to represent events in different ways. This little bit of a story I've read has just thrown me. Not only is it boring - 7 pages of what I see as an info DUMP - but nothing I can look forward to because it doesn't seem that any of these people or the setting is real even though the author's intro leaves that impression.

I'm rambling. I'll stop now. :oops: :oops: :oops: :oops:

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Lisa
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Favourite HF book: Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Preferred HF: Any time period/location. Timeslip, usually prefer female POV. Also love Gothic melodrama.
Location: Northeast Scotland

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Lisa » Wed August 12th, 2015, 2:20 pm

Hmm that's odd, I don't expect my HF novels to follow history exactly to the letter, but I do expect them to have their fictional stories or characters against a backdrop of recognisable historical events and settings, otherwise it's just fiction, not historical fiction, in my opinion.

I do look up events that I read about in HF to see how close the author's depiction is to the real event. Even if it's sometimes just a quick read of a Wikipedia article :p

My idea HF novel would also have an author's note explaining a bit of the historical backdrop, and any deviations in the story from actual historical events. Not all authors do this, but when they do I feel like they care more about the novel and how their readers will receive it. It also shows that they did their research thoroughly.

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Madeleine
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Currently reading: "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper & "The Christmas Egg" by Mary Kelly
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Madeleine » Wed August 12th, 2015, 3:11 pm

I'm with Lisa on this - I like to read historical notes and see if the author points out what/who is real, and what/who isn't real ie have they put a fictitious character into real events, or amalgamated some characters into one person etc., or if they've just put their own interpretation on a particular event - as long as they make it clear how much is based on fact, or why they've taken a real event and then given their own interpretation of what might have happened, then that's fine with me.

I do also look things up to find out what really happened, I usually start with Wiki and then if there are any links which sound interesting, I'll look at those too, along with the author's own website - good authors often put links to other sites, such as ones they used for research.
Currently reading "The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper & "The Christmas Egg" by Mary Kelly

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favourite HF book: Prince of Foxes, by Samuel Shellabarger
Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Wed August 12th, 2015, 5:23 pm

Back when I started reading HF, it was darn hard to check things out, so I usually didn't. Now if there is something unfamiliar (or, in the case of my ancient brain. something I used to know but have not dusted off for a while) I just press the item on my kindle and it wikis it for me. I suspect that more and more readers will take this option, now that it is so effortless.

So no, you aren't the only one, and the ranks of fact-checkers are growing exponentially.

But it sounds like the real problem with this piece of work is that the writer hasn't yet learned how to keep the reader's interest. If a story is well-told, I don't care about the facts while I'm in it. Although I do care afterwards--that's called the 'take-away', and with bad history, there really isn't any. Bad history just creates a mental mess to tag, identify as false, and scrub. A good author's note helps in that process, and also in appreciating what really happened. When reading the author's note, I give extra credit to writers who didn't change the major facts--and those are the books I recommend to others.

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fljustice
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Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by fljustice » Wed August 12th, 2015, 8:59 pm

No, you're not. From the beginning HF was my gateway drug to history. I always looked up (first in an encyclopedia, now on line) the pertinent people and details to see how close to accepted history the author came. That frequently led to reading more non-fiction and biographies on the subject. As with other folks, I very much appreciate a detailed Author's Note and try to provide one for my own stories. That said, I appreciate that some people, time periods, and events are more mythological, poorly documented, or controversial and give writers a wide latitude as they come up with their own interpretations. They get extra points for explaining how they came to those views based on literature, archaeology, etc. I agree with MLE, that your writer probably needs some practice in writing a compelling story. It's the rare writer who can come up with perfect writing in the beginning. Most of us have to slog through the learning and polishing the craft phase. Best of luck with your group. They can be a solace or a chore.
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Mythica
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Preferred HF: European and American (mostly pre-20th century)
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Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Mythica » Wed August 12th, 2015, 11:02 pm

Rowan wrote:
My question, though, is, am I the only one who looks up information that appears in historical fiction to see how close the author chose to stay with what really happened?


I do it sometimes, not always though. It depends on what it is, and how much it has sparked my interest.

Not only is it boring - 7 pages of what I see as an info DUMP - but nothing I can look forward to because it doesn't seem that any of these people or the setting is real even though the author's intro leaves that impression.


I don't feel the characters or events have to be real to be good historical fiction - I just care if an author takes a real person or event from history and changes it so drastically that it doesn't even make sense (I have to allow some creative license, otherwise I might as well just stick to non-fiction). But some of the best novels are about fictional characters or events. Why not? As long as it's believable, who knows, there could have been someone somewhere with a similar story.

Regardless, it should still not be boring.

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Misfit
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Location: Seattle, WA

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Misfit » Wed August 12th, 2015, 11:50 pm

It varies how much I look things up, but if the story isn't working or the book is littered with anachronisms I Google more.
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Ash
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Location: Arizona, USA

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Ash » Thu August 13th, 2015, 1:06 pm

Madeleine wrote:I'm with Lisa on this - I like to read historical notes and see if the author points out what/who is real, and what/who isn't real ie have they put a fictitious character into real events, or amalgamated some characters into one person etc., or if they've just put their own interpretation on a particular event - as long as they make it clear how much is based on fact, or why they've taken a real event and then given their own interpretation of what might have happened, then that's fine with me.

I do also look things up to find out what really happened, I usually start with Wiki and then if there are any links which sound interesting, I'll look at those too, along with the author's own website - good authors often put links to other sites, such as ones they used for research.
This is me as well. Its not that I am making sure they got it right, its more that I am curious about the whole picture, coz usually an author has only enough space/time to present a small corner of it.

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Madeleine
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Posts: 5667
Joined: August 2008
Currently reading: "The Dark is Rising" by Susan Cooper & "The Christmas Egg" by Mary Kelly
Preferred HF: Plantagenets, Victorian, crime
Location: Essex/London

Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Madeleine » Thu August 13th, 2015, 1:19 pm

Ash wrote:
Madeleine wrote:I'm with Lisa on this - I like to read historical notes and see if the author points out what/who is real, and what/who isn't real ie have they put a fictitious character into real events, or amalgamated some characters into one person etc., or if they've just put their own interpretation on a particular event - as long as they make it clear how much is based on fact, or why they've taken a real event and then given their own interpretation of what might have happened, then that's fine with me.

I do also look things up to find out what really happened, I usually start with Wiki and then if there are any links which sound interesting, I'll look at those too, along with the author's own website - good authors often put links to other sites, such as ones they used for research.
This is me as well. Its not that I am making sure they got it right, its more that I am curious about the whole picture, coz usually an author has only enough space/time to present a small corner of it.
Yes, exactly. And sometimes I've looked it up to get the bigger picture, and found out how it slots into history overall - I particularly found this when I came across Maude de Braose in The Scarlet Lion; I knew the name sounded familiar, so I googled her and she came up as the Lady of Hay, who I first came across years ago in Barbara Erskine's book of that name.
Currently reading "The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper & "The Christmas Egg" by Mary Kelly

Carla
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Re: Am I the only one...?

Post by Carla » Thu August 13th, 2015, 6:46 pm

You're definitely not the only one. I often look up events and people that have caught my interest. Sometimes it's just a quick look on Wikipedia to see if a character is fictional or historical, sometimes I'll try and find a history book or a biography to read up in more detail. I'm equally happy with completely fictional characters and events as with actual historical events, and sometimes the dividing line isn't all that clear anyway (e.g. is King Arthur a real figure, some sort of composite of several historical leaders, or a myth?). I really appreciate an author's note outlining the underlying history, and if it's an era with not much documentation and a lot of room for interpretation, an explanation of why they picked their particular interpretation is great. These days, the author's note is the first thing I look for, as I've found it to be the most reliable guide to whether I'm likely to enjoy a book or not.

Just wondering if your writer is writing something that's set in an invented world but isn't really a fantasy novel because it doesn't involve magic? There doesn't really seem to be a label for that sort of novel; I call it 'invented history', but I had to invent the label when I wanted to talk about it in a blog post. If an author wants to tell a particular sort of story that doesn't fit an actual historical episode, I would much rather they invented a fictional world to tell it in than changed the history to fit the story. For example, I really enjoyed Catherine of Lyonesse by Rick Robinson, which is the story of a red-headed princess set in something remarkably like 16th-century France and England - but the princess is exiled from her island realm and has to not only survive in a foreign court but also find a way to get back home to claim her crown. I can see elements of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots in it, but it doesn't fit the actual career of either. (My own Ingeld's Daughter is also in this category; it involves a conflict between an heiress and her usurping cousin, so there are elements of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda/Maud, but the circumstances and outcome are different).

That said, seven pages of info dump is not a good start to any kind of story :-( I wonder if the writer feels they need to build their invented world before they can start telling a story in it? That isn't an easy problem, and I can sympathise with them. Is it the beginning of the book, do you know, or is it from somewhere in the middle? If it's from somewhere in the middle, when the reader should (hopefully) be caught up in the characters and the story, it's sometimes possible to slow things down a bit to provide some background (although seven pages still sounds like rather a lot).
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