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Obligations of H.F. Writers to be Factual

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.
Russ Whitfield
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Post by Russ Whitfield » Mon November 8th, 2010, 1:59 pm

And what of straight history? How “factual” is it?
Good point - Herodotus - secondary source - states that the Persians invaded Greece with an army of two million men (or three - can't remember off the top of my head). Modern estimates say it has to be much less than that. So if I write an HF book about it and say "there were two million men in the army", am I right or wrong?

That's the problem with "facts" - especially with Ancient Historicals - they tend to change depending on the evidence that's dug up. There's also the issue of revisionist history that wants to skew things to fit a particular political viewpoint. At the end of the day, I guess we should just try to write good stories - or what we think are good stories - as being discussed in another thread, one person's good is another's pile of poo!

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Katherine Ashe
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Post by Katherine Ashe » Tue November 9th, 2010, 4:14 am

De gustibus non est disputandum. Our problem as writers is finding the readers who share our tastes, and surviving the wrath of those who don't. Wrath used to be one of the seven deadly sins.

There are things to be wrathful about -- pointless wars wasteful of lives are high on my list. But works in the arts, created to entertain, seem sparrows shot at with canons.

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Shield-of-Dardania
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Post by Shield-of-Dardania » Fri November 12th, 2010, 7:26 pm

I agree. I think one should just focus one's effort on delivering one's best, according to one's ability and taste, and stop worrying about the wrathful. Trying to please everybody would be an exercise in futility anyway, wouldn't it? No matter how hard you try, you can't sell your merchandise to everybody, but only to the ones who're keen on it in particular.

As for Persia vs Greece, isn't there a standard factor one could use to guesstimate the maximum practical size of an army a kingdom or empire could reasonably muster? Like a certain percentage of its population or something. Perhaps 0.1% to 1%?

If I recall correctly, that was what someone did to predict the size of the medieval Japanese army which faced an invading Mongol navy in the late 13th century or early 14th century. He postulated that the population of Japan then was 3 million, so he made their army 15,000 strong (@0.5% of population).

So, by that reckoning, a million-man army in 530 BC, let alone a 2- or 3 million-man one, even for an empire like Persia, would seem to be much on the high side.
Last edited by Shield-of-Dardania on Fri November 12th, 2010, 7:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Russ Whitfield
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Post by Russ Whitfield » Sat November 13th, 2010, 12:54 pm

Yep, all true - but until we had that estimate, it was what Herodotus said.

I think there's always going to be two camps, Shield and I agree - forget the wrathful.

That's a good name for a band, btw.

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Post by Margaret » Sat November 13th, 2010, 6:00 pm

Going by percentage of population still sounds iffy to me. The population itself might be skewed toward or against young males in fighting trim, and a professional army would naturally consist of a smaller percentage of the young male population than an army in which farmers traded hoes for swords when the need arose.
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Post by annis » Sun November 14th, 2010, 2:40 am

The truth is that the lines between fact and fiction in historical accounts have frequently been blurred, the more so the further back we go. We can only see them as guidelines, rather than reliably accurate records. And medieval monk-historians were notoriously creative.

When it comes to estimates of numbers in ancient armies, two factors have to be taken into account - perception and propaganda.

The Viking army besieging England in the 8th century (subject of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Chronicles) is described by contemporaries as vast, yet estimates taken from probable ship/crew numbers indicate something like 2000 men. This doesn’t seem vast to us, but in a society where each chieftain had only a handful of housecarls to call on, such a concentration of warriors would be perceived as immense.

Chroniclers and bards often had the aim of making the side they were promoting look good. This not uncommonly meant making the numbers of your opponents look much greater than they were in reality or downgrading the numbers of your own side to make their achievements look all the greater. For example, take the heroic last stands of the Spartans at Thermopylae and the Romano-Celtic Votadini at the battle of Catterach. In legend these bands of warriors were (coincidentally) both listed as 300, yet obviously each warrior would have had at least one shield-bearer if not more in attendance, who weren’t counted.

Roman book-keeping means we can assume records of their own numbers were pretty accurate, but numbers of enemy vanquished were very likely exaggerated - as seems probable with the numbers of British dead claimed after the final battle with Boudica and the battle of Mons Graupius.

Recently I was reading about the 1411 Battle of Harlaw between the Highland and Lowland clans of Scotland. The ballad of the battle (written by a Lowlander) claims the numbers of the Highland men led by Donald of Skye as 50,000, where actual estimates are less than 10,000. The ballad also records the bravery of a Graham hero in killing The Donald on the field, when we know he went back to Skye after the battle, which could pretty much be described as a draw. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!

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Post by Misfit » Sun November 14th, 2010, 2:35 pm

A review I just came across on Goodreads that I thought I'd post about here. We've discussed this before on another thread and this review kind of brings it home. This isn't always just about historical accuracy, it is also about knowing the time and place you are writing about - and that goes for contemporaries as well as historicals. If you can't make your Australian contemporary realististic, well just change the darn setting to the US :mad:
Nobody in Oceania (or Britain, for that matter) calls petrol ‘gas’ or petrol stations ‘gas stations’, or rubbish ‘trash’, or mobile phones 'cell phones', or an arse an 'ass', or takeaway food 'takeout'!! It’s maths, not ‘math’. And we don’t call our mothers ‘Mom’!!
On the subject of takeaway food, why in the world do the characters in every single one of Mayberry’s books get Indian takeaway? A bit of originality please! (The things you notice when you read all of the author’s books in one go…)
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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Sun November 14th, 2010, 2:56 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]A review I just came across on Goodreads that I thought I'd post about here. We've discussed this before on another thread and this review kind of brings it home. This isn't always just about historical accuracy, it is also about knowing the time and place you are writing about - and that goes for contemporaries as well as historicals. If you can't make your Australian contemporary realististic, well just change the darn setting to the US :mad: [/quote]

This may have been the work of an editor trying to make the book more widely marketable to US readers. The Harry Potter books were altered for their US editions with American spelling and vocabulary, although JK Rowling wasn't keen on the changes apparently.

This kind of thing really irritates me as does the updating of older books - changes to decimal currency in Enid Blyton books, for instance. It gets out of date in its turn - I have some 1980s Blytons where Julian buys a whole picnic for 50p, or something like that.

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Misfit
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Post by Misfit » Sun November 14th, 2010, 3:46 pm

[quote=""Miss Moppet""]This may have been the work of an editor trying to make the book more widely marketable to US readers. The Harry Potter books were altered for their US editions with American spelling and vocabulary, although JK Rowling wasn't keen on the changes apparently.

This kind of thing really irritates me as does the updating of older books - changes to decimal currency in Enid Blyton books, for instance. It gets out of date in its turn - I have some 1980s Blytons where Julian buys a whole picnic for 50p, or something like that.[/quote]

I don't read contemporary romances so I can't judge, but I'm curious what the *everyday* romance reader would feel about this. Do they want it americanized or realistic?
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Miss Moppet
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Post by Miss Moppet » Sun November 14th, 2010, 10:25 pm

[quote=""Misfit""]I don't read contemporary romances so I can't judge, but I'm curious what the *everyday* romance reader would feel about this. Do they want it americanized or realistic?[/quote]

Would be an interesting question for Dear Author or Smart Bitches.

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