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Storical or Historical

A place to debate issues or to rant about what's on your mind. In addition to discussions about historical fiction, books, the publishing industry, and history, discussions about current political, social, and religious issues and other topics are allowed, so those who are easily offended by certain topics may want to avoid such threads. Members are expected to keep the discussions friendly and polite and to avoid personal attacks on other members. The moderators reserve the right to shut down a thread without warning if they believe it necessary.
Calgal
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Location: Northern California

Storical or Historical

Postby Calgal » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:22 am

I'm not sure if this is a debate, but people do differ on how historical Historical Novels should be.

I would hope someone, somewhere would check facts, but there is a lot of difference between minor inaccuracies and, say, having the King in London when it is well documented he was away during a plague. I'd just as soon writers do their homework, but I am not a historical scholar, so I give them latitude. I can spend a half a day finding a picture of some costume detail or of a 17th century oven, but unless it is a plot point, my efforts stem more from a desire not to disturb the dream than anything else. The story is more important to me than the history. I see it as a question of balance and style not to belabor inessential details. Truth be told, I find writers who do this tedious.

Minor inaccuracies disturb the dream for the more knowlegable among us, but such errors may not bother the rest of us. If there is no evidence a certain character ever lived in London but there is evidence they at least visited, I don't feel guilty about having them live there for a short time if it makes my plot work better. I wouldn't be writing or reading fiction if all I wanted was what has already been written.

Also, I don't trust official history, which is always written by the winners. Often, they do not seek truth so much as justification and are quite willing to ignore inconvenient facts. "Spin" is a relatively new word for a very old PR habit. Even statisticians deal in a sort of fiction when they ignore the statistical variable.

Anyone want to put up the case for authentically historical? Anyone believe there is such a thing?

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Divia
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Postby Divia » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:53 am

The more I read the more I want the story to be historically accurate, but that could be the anal historian in me ;) I dont want a person who is from 1860 acting like they are from 2008. And if they have radical views I want them to suffer for it. If some writes that there was fancy furniture in a Victorian bedroom, I can overlook it, but if we have a lot of facts that are just wrong then its annoying.
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
Bibliomaniac
Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
Favorite 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

Postby MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sun August 31st, 2008, 2:05 am

For me, HF is an opportunity to get my history with a little fun thrown in. I don't like a little fun with a lot of erroneous information. Once I discover a writer is really skewing the history, I will usually not read any more of his/her stuff and go for someone equally entertaining who is accurate.

Why not? There are now plenty to choose from, and the internet to help you find it. I don't have to settle for a poor storyteller who is an accurate historian, or an excellent plot with lousy history. I can root around until I find someone who is good at both.
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EC2
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Location: Nottingham UK
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Postby EC2 » Sun August 31st, 2008, 10:26 am

My take on this is that story and historical integrity do not have to be mutually exclusive and a good author of historical fiction will deliver both.
It isn't possible to get everything right and when all's said and done an author living here and now is a product of the recent past and of this moment. But the best authors strive to get it as right as possible because that rightness is owed as a matter of respect to the past and helps to create historical integrity. The way the clothes were worn, the food was eaten, the habits and surroundings all impinge on character perception and behaviour. It's all interwoven. A story without historical integrity....well why write historical in the first place?
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Misfit
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Location: Seattle, WA

Postby Misfit » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:13 pm

Glad to see the debate forum back! I too prefer that my books be as accurate as possible, but I also understand that's something that we're not going to find 100% of the time. Like Calgal said, history is often written by the winners - look at how the Tudors have skewed Richard III (or did they?).

Bad historical details can ruin the reading experience for me, as can too much detail thrown in just to convince the reader the author knows what he/she is writing about. LOL the book that Divia knows I'm talking about when a well bred young miss of 1899 New York society has a bear rug :eek: :eek: in her bedroom. I'd say the author stuck it there just to set up her love scene -- the bed wasn't good enough?

One thing I've noticed with a couple of romance authors I've discovered recently from the 70's and 80's (Celeste de Blasis and Patricia Gallagher) is that they've included so a wonderful plethora of period detail and actual history of the times that they've stepped themselve up a notch or two from your basic romance novel.

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EC2
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Postby EC2 » Sun August 31st, 2008, 1:47 pm

History in broad brush strokes is indeed written by the winners, or those who happen to have the ability to push the pen. Every written word of history is filtered through the personality and concerns of the writer and whatever axes they have to grind, or matters to promote/avoid.
The archaeological evidence is less skewed, so you can judge stuff from that - although again you have to be careful. Someone digging up restaurant coffee cups hundreds of years from now might come to the conclusion that we all had teeny weeny fingers and and thumbs!
However, delving under the surface, reading around the subject as widely as possible and combining the disciplines such as primary source, archaeology and living history will help to give an author a broader view and understanding and perhaps also lead them to their own plausible version of what happened.
Les proz e les vassals

Souvent entre piez de chevals

Kar ja li coard n’I chasront



'The Brave and the valiant
Are always to be found between the hooves of horses
For never will cowards fall down there.'


Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal



www.elizabethchadwick.com

Ash
Bibliomaniac
Location: Arizona, USA

Postby Ash » Sun August 31st, 2008, 2:11 pm

>However, delving under the surface, reading around the subject as widely as possible and combining the disciplines such as primary source, archaeology and living history will help to give an author a broader view and understanding and perhaps also lead them to their own plausible version of what happened.

The best historical fiction mirrors what I already know from other sources, but at the same time adds enough history to make me intrigued enough to find out more, which then leads me to HF about another event or time. Its a vicious cycle, one I'm very happy to be on!

As for the question, I think the line between the two is quite blurry. A good HF is going to be a good story. Its going to tell the story with the historical events, places and people firmly in mind, and yet tells the story with the undestanding that humans are complex and there are many many possibliities for how they will react to those events. For me, my favorite HF are the ones that straddle that line, and blend the story so well that the 'historical facts' are almost invisible, but necessary

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donroc
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Postby donroc » Sun August 31st, 2008, 3:01 pm

Keep your HF as accurate as possible with showing, not telling, and above all write a great story with engaging characters.

Even historians make errors and erroneous assumptions in their tomes.
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Cuchulainn
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Postby Cuchulainn » Mon September 1st, 2008, 4:51 am

"donroc" wrote:Keep your HF as accurate as possible with showing, not telling, and above all write a great story with engaging characters.




I think that pretty much says it for me.

Some of the most immersive books I have read are by authors who write as though the times they are writing about are contemporaneous with the writing. For example, if I was writing about what I was doing now, I wouldn't describe to you what a computer was; I'd just assume you knew it. When writers write like that you at once feel you are reading something genuine and are onto something with real integrity.

Patrick O'Brian was a master in this respect; he knew his subject completely, but fed you nothing because his books were more about stories than his research.

Mara
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Postby Mara » Mon September 1st, 2008, 10:56 am

I prefer less description in historicals, although I must admit I've come across reviewers who want every item (such as the computer in Cuchulainn's example) described in great detail because they cannot imagine what it could be.

But it's also about what you - as a reader - know about specific eras. I'm familiar with medieval and Tudor times, yet know very little about Regency. Therefore my knowledge of types of clothing, carriage, etc, of that era is limited. If it seriously disrupts the dream, I have to look it up. But if it's well described, I don't need to do that. That depends on the skill of the writer to provide me with enough detail to feed my imagination, yet without boring me to death.

A writer should also avoid glaring inaccuracies just for the sake of having some 'historical' content. Thinking that something (like above-mentioned bear rug in NY) 'might' sound good doesn't help if the reader is left wondering what the hell... If the writer isn't sure about certain issues, rather leave them out than subject yourself to potential ridicule.

My 2 pennies worth... :rolleyes:


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