To be accurate or not to be completely accurate, that is the question?

As I ‘m back to editing my second time travel manuscript, with the help of my fabulous cp, the question I asked above has cropped up a few times. I’m a writer of historical novels, now whether that be a regency, medieval whatever, I like to write about the past. And as I’m looking through these line edits, one question more than most, keeps raising its little head.
How accurate should we be with our historical novels?
Remembering that the books I write are fiction. Hmmmm. My writing process starts with a germ of an idea. I’m a panster writer so, off that one idea a book eventually forms. I also research as I go. My resource library is starting to look quite nice and Google is a godsend. So, can I tweak history just a little to let my characters have their story as I see it? Or should I stick to what is essentially, “historically correct”.
For instance: Trews – or as we now call them – Pants. Is it a Scottish term or did the English use it as well? Some clothing books on fashion through the ages use the term for both locations. So, what’s right? Again, ???
Paintings – Middle ages for instance – I’ve been informed were mostly those of a religious bent. But in my story, I need a painting of the heroine’s parents. Will I get away with this, or will an agent or editor pick it up and say to change it. Again, ???
And then my hero in this particular book is a medieval Baron. I’m changing him gradually to someone readers will like and eventually love. But in “real life” would he have changed? Would he have aimed at a happily ever after in his marriage? Or would he have only cared his stomach was full as well as his coffers?
How far can we push history to bend it to what “we” would like to see and read? Books I realise have to be written historically correct. I get this, I do. The food they eat, how they eat it, dress, speech etc must be right. But can we tweak just a little the facts that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things?
It’s a question I’ve been asking myself. We will see I guess.
Happy writing and researching.
Tam 🙂

8 thoughts on “To be accurate or not to be completely accurate, that is the question?

  1. Becca J. Heath

    No idea. i think there'sll be those who'll read you to nitpick and those who will be happy just to go with the story of your characters…
    Useless aren't i??

  2. Serena

    Hi Tam,
    Well…I love to read romance BUT if I know the information I'm reading is inaccurate, it would throw me out of the story and I wouldn't enjoy that. Even where the characters say a few words in a foreign language, if the spelling is wrong or the verbs/gender don't agree, etc, I find it really REALLY distracting.

    OK I think you know where I stand ;-P


  3. Anonymous

    Wow! You've really opened an historical can of worms there Tam.

    I take the approach of be as accurate as you can without turning your story into a historical textbook. There is a fine line to be crossed that is for sure. Some readers are happy to wade through a slower paced book and soak up every historical fact and word but others will find the pace hard going and give up.

    I think that if you are going to use a historical fact or term be accurate and let the rest of the story have its way. In the end you are writing Historical Romance fiction not an essay on real life people.

    Not sure if that is at all helpful.


  4. Christina Phillips

    Ah Tam! I love this post. It's something I struggle with *all* the time! I research until my eyes cross but I have to accept that there will always be something I miss – and a reader will pick up on.

    In the end, we're historical romance writers – not historians. If you need a Medieval painting of your heroine's parents then who's to say people didn't commission an artist to do that?

    I could talk about this for hours… we'll have to get together over a cuppa at conference!!!

  5. Tamara Gill

    Thanks ladies for dropping by. It is a tricky subject and a great one to debate. You have all given me lots to think about and ponder over.
    And I'll take you up on that cuppa, Christina. I'll see you in August!
    Tam 🙂

  6. Nicky Strickland

    Hi Tam, This is an interesting one. Plus it is one I'm about to drop into. I've decided to go back to 1st BCE Rome & have been trying to work out how accurate I need to be & with what (having a degree in the area doesn't help either…if anything I've decided it makes it harder to choose *lol*).

    End of the day it is what serves the story is what needs to be there (be it clothing, social mores and events). It's a tricky one & one I'm sure to be asking for guidance myself!

  7. Tamara Gill

    Wow! 1st BCE Rome, should make for excellent research, Nicky. I know, the question I asked is a sticky subject. I'm going to go with what I've written and hope for the best. As you said, clothing, social mores and events are true to the time, so I think I'm safe. 😉
    Thanks for dropping in.

  8. Alli

    I've just come across this post but would like to put my .02 cents in. From what I understand there is a genre called "alternate history" – historical stories based on "what if". For exmaple, what if the French declared Australia as their own territory before Cook? So I guess if you pitch your story as "alternate history" then you're pretty much set and can do as you please. 😉

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