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Genres & Age Categories => Historical Fiction => Topic started by: Ann Gatti on June 21, 2009, 06:19 PM

Title: Rules vs Reality
Post by: Ann Gatti on June 21, 2009, 06:19 PM
I posted this on another forum and I remember that we have a historical fiction board here. 

I'm reading a book about historical facts and scandals of the royals, and others among the high ranks, and I have encounter some events that don't exactly go with some of the society rules of the time. This had me wondering how strict should writers, and readers, be in following some rules. How inaccurate is a writer when for example a man marries his mistress, or his maid. How much of the rules that we see in historical fiction where a reality of that time? I'm not contesting the rules I'm only curious  to see what others think.  I'm sure some of the things that this people did were a mayor scandal at that time.  However, that didn't seem to stop them from doing what they did.
Title: Re: Rules vs Reality
Post by: Marissa Doyle on June 21, 2009, 06:45 PM
Historical fiction readers...at least adult ones...tend to be sticklers for the facts.  That may be less the case with children's historical fiction, but I personally feel strongly that writers of historical fiction for kids owe it to them to respect historical fact and incorporate what they can into their work.  My own books are historical fantasy and contain elements of magic, but the historical background, setting, customs, and material culture are as accurate as I can make them (I'm buried in reference books!) Using them can make fiction so much richer.  Why have a story with a ninetenth century girl feeling stifled by the expectations of society, and not SHOW what she had to put up with--little formal education, little freedom of movement (always requiring a chaperone if she leaves the house), possibly an arranged marriage (or at least a circumscribed choice)?

And yes, in those days a man might do something completely socially unacceptable and marry his mistress (like Charles James Fox did) or his maid (like another British nobleman did), but those wives were never "accepted" in society--the husbands pretty much gave up their positions in society and often were shunned by friends and family members as a result.  So yes, they broke the rules, but they also paid a price.
Title: Re: Rules vs Reality
Post by: anita on June 21, 2009, 07:13 PM
To some extent I think it depends what you're writing and who's publishing it.  Some publishers have higher standards and requirements for accuracy than others. 

And I agree that a lot of historical readers are sticklers for accuracy.

But there are any number of books where the girls or women of a period were strong and had jobs or businesses etc, or something else that wasn't necessarily true to the time period.  But if I were going to move too far from the truth or the typical, I'd want to have proof of some sort that it did happen or could have happened, and/or I'd probably put something in the acknowledgements about it.  It depends on what the change was, and how far from the truth I was straying.

anita
Title: Re: Rules vs Reality
Post by: Joni on June 22, 2009, 10:06 AM
I agree with all of the above. Accuracy is important. The more research you do, though, the more instances you find of individuals bucking either their societal norms or what we today assume were those norms (which isn't always completely accurate because not everything in a society gets written down, and because a certain class and gender of folks tended to do the writing). There were a lot of things that weren't much discussed or socially acceptable back in the day -- from strong independent women to birth control and abortion (or attempts at it) -- but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. You've just got to present it realistically, and that includes the social consequences.
Title: Re: Rules vs Reality
Post by: PatEsden on June 22, 2009, 04:49 PM
I agree with Joni that sometimes what we assume were the norms is not always accurate.

I've had two historical fantasy novelettes published which featured young women artisans in social positions that might come across as inaccurate. The truth is, I did a lot of research to find time periods when women artisans had freedoms that went against the norm. One is a story about a woman glassblower in early Venice (they were highly educated and could marry at any social level--even princes). The other was about a woman who became a master potter in England during the mid 19th century.  I haven't done it yet, but I'd love to do a story about a young woman blacksmith during the American Revolutionary War.

To me, discovering the unique historic nugget to base a story on is what makes history facinating and story creation exciting.  If a reader decides to research the history (or myth) behind something I write, I want them to discover truth--and if possible I'd like the reader not be sure where the real history leaves off and my created history begins.

I guess what I'm saying is often you don't have to go against historic facts, you just have to find the place your story fits into historic reality--and as Marissa said, think hard about the price the characters pay for going against the norm.