Thursday, February 01, 2007

Writing 007 -- Writing Historical Fiction

This episode has gotten some responses, both positive and negative. (Though constructive criticism is always good.)

Some people felt I was correct to call for as much historical accuracy as possible when writing historical fiction. (I certainly don't think the historical novelist should be sloppy about things.)

Other people felt that adherence to history can get in the way of storytelling.

Both are true. Both have a legitimate case.

Good storytelling might require bad history. But bad history is nothing to be proud of.

Good history doesn't guarantee good storytelling. And bad storytelling is nothing to be proud of.

I just prefer the best of both worlds.



Anonymous said...

yea how do you kno so much about history???

Tom Occhipinti said...

I absolutely do not know enough about history. Even with my story, I have to learn a heck of a lot just to make sure I get it right.

I have to make it as right as possible; even still, I'm sure I'll miss something. Or a lot of stuff.


Sarah said...

Today, we are so ignorant of history, and so willing to believe the most untrue things--well, I just think that the historical novelist has an obligation NOT to promulgate lies. Footnotes are out of the question, truly. I read a book recently that was not a "historical" but the characters were seeking a fictional masterpiece by a real artist in a ficitonal castle in a real city. The author took pains, in the forword, to tell the truth about which was which. I like that approach.

Robin L. said...

I think a book should be up front about what it's doing - that is, clearly state what it's messing with and not messing with. If I'm reading Elizabeth Peters, I think I have a pretty good idea of aspects of life in Egypt in the late 19th century. If I'm reading Dan Brown, well, I'm not. But my point is he messed with history and passed it off as though he didn't and I think that's irresponsible. On the other hand, alternative history is a fun genre, or even books that delve into historical figures and then play "what if" and create a fiction around them. I think that's great, so long as the author doesn't then say "I know this to be true!"

I'm planning to write a historical fiction novel as soon as the one I'm working on now is out the door, so this is a subject I've been grappling with a lot!

jimdietz said...

Tom, I'm reviewing your podcasts prior to a "novel" class. My assignment is to present the opening of a story using description of the setting and dialogue of the main characters to set the scene and, hopefully, to set the hook. "002" part one has been helpful in focusing me on my goal of describing the scene but particularly in showing, through the dialogue and description, how character #1 is attracted to #2 while #2 needs #1. Whoa. And your podcast "002" part one is particularly valuable in screening out nebulous verbage and setting aside other valuable stuff until later.
Looking forward to additional lessons and hope you're finding this forum valuable to you as well.
I plan to make your series known to my professor and fellow students in tonight's class.
Thanks for your good work.

Tom Occhipinti said...

I'm glad you enjoy the podcast. And thanks for letting others know about it!

If you or anyone else in your class has a particular topic you want me to delve into -- let me know.

And yes, I enjoy this forum, and the supportive email I receive.

Kind Regards,

Deborah M said...

Tom, I feel so vindicated after listening to your podcast. Although my novel is not historical per se (set in 1974 - 75), it is so important to me that I have details correct that I've spent hours in the library doing research for backstory that may or may not be part of the story. THank you so much for letting us know that time is not wasted!