Reconciling Historical Accuracy vs. What your story is about


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Thread: Reconciling Historical Accuracy vs. What your story is about

  1. #1

    Reconciling Historical Accuracy vs. What your story is about

    Disclaimer: No, I'm not asking for permission, this is just a genuine question I have.


    When you write historical fiction and do research, how do you manage what you want to write about versus what is factually true?


    Like let's say I wanted to write a story about a young deaf woman in Civil War America taking it upon herself to solve a mystery involving her friend's disappearance. In our world, naturally, the idea of a deaf woman in 1860s America taking the law in her own hands to solve a crime would've been unheard of back then. Even if said woman came from a higher station (i.e., her father ran a rather successful consulting business)


    Do I...just ignore that part of history and let her do her thing regardless of how inaccurate it could be, or do I make a mention of how odd it is to the locals who chalk it up as a 'one time thing' or that 'she must've done a few favors for the right people'? I mean, c'mon, if we were alive back then, we'd probably have thought it an oddity indeed.


    I mean, I know it's fiction and it's not true, but at the same time...it's also set in history. How do you find that middle ground?

  2. #2
    The historical genre:
    The trick is to understand the distinction between authenticity and accuracy. Yes – historical fiction readers want to be immersed into an authentic world. In other words, a world that feels accurate.
    Accuracy Vs Authenticity: 5 Tips For Writing Immersive Historical Fiction





    • How can you accurately produce historical dialogue when people used to speak in Middle English…or Latin?
    • What about when people from the past actually defied the established conventions and stereotypes of their time?
    • How will your reader know what to believe?

    The trick is to understand the distinction between authenticity and accuracy. Yes – historical fiction readers want to be immersed into an authentic world. In other words, a world that feels accurate.
    Very often, this means creating a historically accurate depiction. But, when accuracy becomes alienating or confusing – or when it counterintuitively detracts from the feeling of authenticity – you’ll have no choice but to fictionalise the past.
    Figuring out how to do this and where the boundaries lie can be challenging, so I’ve put together five top tips for helping you achieve authenticity when it conflicts with accuracy.

    2. Stay away from anachronistic words…even when they’re not anachronistic

    Here’s a little test: which one of these terms of endearment was not used prior to 1600?

    • Sweetheart
    • Darling
    • Baby
    • Honey

    What? Surely none of them were, right? Wrong.
    Only “baby” was not used as a term of endearment prior to 1600 (it was first used in this way in the 19th century). The others go way back – “sweetheart” to the 13th century, “honey” to the 14th, and “darling” – well that goes back all the way to the 9th century!
    The point is this – word origins can be counterintuitive. You could use “honey” in your 14th century novel, but your readers may well refuse to believe it was really used in that context back then.
    They may even leave a review accusing you of using historically inaccurate language. How annoying is that?
    The reality is that, if the word feels wrong for your time period, your readers are probably going to object.
    As perverse as it may sound, you’re better off staying away from words that could be jarring in this way. Something like “my love” is always going to be a safer option than “honey”.
    Other words can catch you out in the opposite way.
    The word “sadistic” sounds neutral enough that it might go back a few hundred years in one form or another, but, actually, its first recorded use was in 1892. The word “boycott” also goes back to only 1880. “Silhouette” was used in its broad sense only from 1843.
    What do these words all have in common? They were named after people.
    Whether or not you use them in stories set earlier than their true origins depends on your risk appetite. A word like silhouette, for example, is very unlikely to attract objections or to detract from the sense of authenticity in your novel, but the lesson is to never assume!

    4. Acknowledge stereotypes even if you want to defy them

    Historical facts can go the other way, too. Take the following stereotypes:

    • Upper-class men never used to attend childbirth. Wrong! Though certainly uncommon, there are examples of it happening.
    • Women didn’t fight. Wrong! There are hundreds of examples of women leading armies into battle or fighting alongside men, sometimes in disguise.
    • Women didn’t inherit property. Wrong! It could happen, even under the system of primogeniture (right of succession of the first-born child). Unless an ‘entail’ specifically forbade it, daughters could inherit land and property if there were no sons.



    You might have to depict him as a puaper, since at that time period the odds were against them to rise from their poor social status. This is where you can take some liberties to be creative in the subject. I think the above is solid advice for you to write from. Historical accuracy and authenticity is what I an referring to specfically of the fictional universe and the time period. But since this is a story and facts are scarce you can change the stereotype and make him survive the harshness of his times for example. Maybe he is extremely intelligent and so forth. He'd get a job easily for being blind.

    Credit goes to the creative penn for the article. More at the link: https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2018...rical-fiction/ .

    So when you are trying to write a historical novel what they try to do is both but do not sacrifice the story in the terms of authenticity and accuracy. But you can subvert that if he is not well known or invent facts about that character that made him survive his environment. Blind people were not well to do. It merits research. By making up he was a smart crafty person and one of the few detectives it starts to be authetic and accurate for the sake of the fiction and story. Not many blind people are well known in history unless I am mistaken.

    Some advice suggests to read novels of the period to get accurate depictions of the anthropology of the period, description and more. That way you can make it more historically accurate and authethic without sacrificing the story. By knowing how to subvert a sterotype such as a blind detective in your novel. That means if a colonial novel exists or any literature and nonfiction it would be advisable to go and read it.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; October 2nd, 2019 at 03:45 PM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  3. #3
    Thanks for the link, bud. :O I'll read it with interest and post thoughts later.

    I did find an interesting book written by a French woman (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zina_W...--5zDSsGy4T0lw) who wrote
    The Blind in French Society from the Middle Ages to the Century of Louis Braille, Stanford University Press, 2009

    This will prove invaluable, I think.

  4. #4
    It was noisy here and I wanted to use my time productively since it was too noisy. I am studying a book on how to write non-fiction to learn from it and glean something useful(to hopefully apply to fiction and writing) (I never did finish reading philip lopate's book on nonfiction to be honest). I need silence to study plus I was using my computer's digital recorder to take brief notes of important passages(I think a recorder does wonders for remembering notes and for people especially with autism spectrum disorder). Because you talk outloud as you learn and retain more information. So then I decided I will post in your thread, since there is too much noise in my house to both study and record my notes on the digital recorder on the computer. So as to not waste my time as I couldn't get any peace and quiet to do my work. But however I am satisfied it helped. I took the time as the input and link's information was good. What is important is that it is that you find that it will help you write what you intended.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by The Green Shield View Post
    Disclaimer: No, I'm not asking for permission, this is just a genuine question I have.


    When you write historical fiction and do research, how do you manage what you want to write about versus what is factually true?


    Like let's say I wanted to write a story about a young deaf woman in Civil War America taking it upon herself to solve a mystery involving her friend's disappearance. In our world, naturally, the idea of a deaf woman in 1860s America taking the law in her own hands to solve a crime would've been unheard of back then. Even if said woman came from a higher station (i.e., her father ran a rather successful consulting business)


    Do I...just ignore that part of history and let her do her thing regardless of how inaccurate it could be, or do I make a mention of how odd it is to the locals who chalk it up as a 'one time thing' or that 'she must've done a few favors for the right people'? I mean, c'mon, if we were alive back then, we'd probably have thought it an oddity indeed.


    I mean, I know it's fiction and it's not true, but at the same time...it's also set in history. How do you find that middle ground?

    Helen Keller got a college degree.
    So a deaf woman solving crimes in that era is not really that far out.

  6. #6
    Ralph's right. A deaf woman solving crimes in almost any era is not far out at all. As an amateur American History historian (in my own mind anyway ) though, I can imagine she would get some resistance, not so much for being deaf, but this was a time when women were not only prohibited from voting, they likely would be restricted to professions such as teaching or menial labor assuming they weren't married. And they would be expected to not only marry and raise children, but be subservient to their husbands, thus it would become difficult, though certainly not impossible, to be a female Sherlock Holmes if you will. The good news is that, yes, they would inherit any property their husband would leave them.

    Also, if this is set in the Civil War period, would that play in with the story? If so, would she be on the Union or Confederate side or would it matter? Would slaves be involved, maybe the underground railroad would be a factor in your story. Women tended to have a little more latitude during wartime being involved on the battlefield as nurses for example, and they certainly could have exerted more independence without scorn during this period. Just some food for thought
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by mrmustard615 View Post
    Ralph's right. A deaf woman solving crimes in almost any era is not far out at all. As an amateur American History historian (in my own mind anyway ) though, I can imagine she would get some resistance, not so much for being deaf, but this was a time when women were not only prohibited from voting, they likely would be restricted to professions such as teaching or menial labor assuming they weren't married. And they would be expected to not only marry and raise children, but be subservient to their husbands, thus it would become difficult, though certainly not impossible, to be a female Sherlock Holmes if you will. The good news is that, yes, they would inherit any property their husband would leave them.

    Also, if this is set in the Civil War period, would that play in with the story? If so, would she be on the Union or Confederate side or would it matter? Would slaves be involved, maybe the underground railroad would be a factor in your story. Women tended to have a little more latitude during wartime being involved on the battlefield as nurses for example, and they certainly could have exerted more independence without scorn during this period. Just some food for thought
    - Yeah, the Civil War plays a huge part during the story. Her father joins on the side of the Union (though they have to hide their true allegiance as they live in Alabama.)

    - I hadn't thought of the slave angle. I could see her forming a friendship with a slave woman named Lizzy and they both help each other out.

    - I could see my character learning first aid and how to use a rifle. It is a war, after all. She has to know how to take care of herself in case her dad doesn't make it back.

    - The idea for this was that her friend was kidnapped by a mob of Confederate sympathizers when they learned where his loyalties lied and as she digs deeper, she learns that a rival newspaper entrepreneur has a hand in it.

  8. #8
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    Well to add my two sence to the pot how historically accurate you are or need to be depends greatly on what kind of story your telling. For example I have to do a ton I research on the 14th, 15th, and 16th century's all so I can then break that time period so as to write an alternate history series.

    By using real world history and events I can then spice up the more fantastic elements of my series kind of like Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. I love how they were able to splice historical accuracy with fantastic realism to make a truly compelling story and give us a glimpse at what could be in some alternative timeline were myths & monsters existed.
    This might not be my best work but that just means there's room to improve.

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  9. #9
    I would make everything historically accurate. I'd also make sure that my characters fit neatly into history (make them accurate, but not disruptive of the published facts.)

    If you stray from historical accuracy, you will only draw bad reviews from every amateur historian who reads your book. There is no good to be found in departing from historical accuracy.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by The Green Shield View Post
    Disclaimer: No, I'm not asking for permission, this is just a genuine question I have.


    When you write historical fiction and do research, how do you manage what you want to write about versus what is factually true?


    Like let's say I wanted to write a story about a young deaf woman in Civil War America taking it upon herself to solve a mystery involving her friend's disappearance. In our world, naturally, the idea of a deaf woman in 1860s America taking the law in her own hands to solve a crime would've been unheard of back then. Even if said woman came from a higher station (i.e., her father ran a rather successful consulting business)


    Do I...just ignore that part of history and let her do her thing regardless of how inaccurate it could be, or do I make a mention of how odd it is to the locals who chalk it up as a 'one time thing' or that 'she must've done a few favors for the right people'? I mean, c'mon, if we were alive back then, we'd probably have thought it an oddity indeed.


    I mean, I know it's fiction and it's not true, but at the same time...it's also set in history. How do you find that middle ground?
    Although he's not an author we hear much about now (he died some years back), I suggest reading one or two of Dennis Wheatley's WW2 stories - the ones with Gregory Sallust as the MC. He does tie some WW2 events in with the story and also there are a few instances where his characters influenced some wartime events. He also manages this with some of his stories set in the French revolution (I can't recall the MC's name). It may (or may not) be helpful to see how an experienced author managed the tie-ups.


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