Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Fact and Fiction: Part One

I’ve read many excellent novels where an author has taken historical characters and brought them vividly to life; so vividly I could see beyond their stiff, grim looking photographs. But I’d never considered writing a novel like that myself. So much research would be involved, I’d write the character in an utterly unbelievable way, etc. Now however, much to my surprise, I found a story based on the experiences of a young woman in history and it caught hold of my imagination and wouldn’t let go. And so, guess what? I’m plowing through mounds of internet articles, reading stacks of books, and attempting to meld fact and fiction.

How Much Liberty Can You Take?

Real people live real lives. And real lives do not always fit in the world of fiction. So can you take liberties, fudge dates, add characters, keep character’s alive who in reality died? There is no confirmed answer to this question. Some writers say absolutely no, some yes, and some put limits on how much they change. Then there’s the publisher. Most publishers want happy endings. What if in reality the ending wasn’t happy? In my WIP the hero and heroine spend their honeymoon in Paris, whereas the real couple went to both Paris and Egypt. My decision for changing this detail was based on several factors.

1) The Egyptian location has no bearing on the rest of the story. No life changing events took place there. Anything that did occur could just as easily have taken place in Paris.
2) The real life personalities of the characters can be more easily portrayed in Paris rather than Egypt.
3) The Parisian trip is more suited to the era than the Egyptian one.

In your own historical novel should you allow the story to alter from what really occurred? I believe in all reality it is impossible to be completely accurate and make an interesting story. I’m not suggesting one should sacrifice accuracy for readability, or the other way around. Changes may need to be permitted however, especially in the case of writing historical romance. Readers may be mixed on how they want the ending to go, but the majority want the read to end happily, and so do publishers. Therefore, some altering of event may need to take place.
This is to be the first of a three part series on fact vs. fiction so look for the rest in the weeks ahead.

Your turn. How accurate are your own novels or the novels you’ve read? Do you think accuracy is more important than readability, or the other way around? I look forward to your comments.

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