Tag Archives: historical fiction

How Accurate Should Historical Fiction Be?

I got into a conversation recently about whether historical fiction should be “prohibited” if it wasn’t “accurate.” (The discussion started over swearing in historical novels, but spread out from there.)

As a historical novelist… yeah. No.

I think that, of course, historical fiction should be as true to its time and place as it can be. But writing a story set in another time with 100% accuracy isn’t for historical novels — it’s for textbooks. (And even then, it isn’t possible, since so much of history remains up for debate.)

In fact, writing fully accurate historical fiction isn’t always possible. Or even advisable. So I’m glad there aren’t any HistFic cops out there to beat down my door.

There’s a lot that’s almost impossible to find out about life in former times. Dates, names, and outcomes of big battles, marriages, deaths — the important, history-making events of the ruling classes — are easy to learn. What people in a particular part of rural Japan would have had for breakfast in May, 1571? Not so easy.

And even those battles and things don’t always cooperate to allow you to tell the best possible story.

In Bright Eyes, my latest Seasons of the Sword novel, one of the historical characters had changed his name by the time in which the book is set. But if I used the correct name, it was going to be too much like that of another historical character, and I was worried that similarity would confuse readers. Also, the new name was a very famous one — and I didn’t want to give away what happened to him later to the historically literate. (Mind, if they’re real Japanese history buffs, they already know. But why make it easy, right? 😉)

Historical fiction isn’t pretending to be historical fact. It’s just doing it’s best to weave a consistent tale within a long-ago setting. Like fantasy or science fiction, it’s trying to tell a good story — only someone’s already done the world building.

Writing from another point of view

Can a man write from a woman’s point of view?

Gosh, I sure hope so! I am, after all, currently writing a series of books from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old girl.

Now, she’s also Japanese, living in Japan.

In the sixteenth century.

I’m an American man living in twenty-first-century California.

Continue reading Writing from another point of view

The Magic of History

On writing historical fiction as if it were fantasy

When I first began working on my novel Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale, my daughters were both young, and they were both voracious readers. Which, not surprisingly, I am as well. And so we happily read a lot of books together — both pleasure books and books assigned by their teachers.

Now, most of the books Sasha and Julia brought home from school were wonderful. But I noticed pretty early on that a lot of the “historical fiction” was way heavier on the historical than the story.

Again, some of the books were great. The Witch of Blackbird Pond? Crispin: Cross of Lead? Number the Stars? Terrific.

But a lot of the others were… less so.

I found myself looking at the books that my daughters and I found compelling and realized that, first and foremost, they were great stories — that they had  lot more in common with the magic in the fantasy books that we all enjoyed together (Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Tamara Pierce’s Tortall books) than a history text.

And so, as I thought about what style I wanted to take on when I began writing Risuko, I decided that I was going to write my historical novel as if it were a fantasy. Continue reading The Magic of History