Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Hysterical accuracy


I mean, historical accuracy. Sorry.

As I edit my next novel (have I mentioned that it’s called Town Father and is set in 1880s California?), I’m getting the occasional shudder of total fear and anxiety that the history buffs will want to use it for kindling. Not because I’ve purposely ignored authenticity but because there’s bound to be something in there that riles up the sticklers. I’ve done loads of research for this book — learning everything from how fast trains traveled back then to what kinds of acts were in circuses — but the nature of the story requires the stretching of truth. Maybe outright distortion.

But hey. It’s fiction, right?

That’s why I was glad to run across this column in Writer’s Digest by Susanna Calkins, a novelist who focuses on 17th century England. She has some great advice for historical fiction writers, including “Don’t fret the details” and “Love the process, because readers will still find errors.”

Basically, it boils down to telling the story you need to tell with brush strokes that evoke the era, that sketch it like stage flats, and that provide a convincing foundation for your characters. At least that’s the approach I’m taking.

And for the record, I haven’t overly relied on Wikipedia…


9 comments on “Hysterical accuracy

  1. Helena Hann-Basquiat
    May 7, 2015

    I’m working on a trilogy of novels set in a fictionally historical pre-Columbian Caribbean. I’ve done a lot of research, but still pick and choose what I want and stretch the rest.

  2. John W. Howell
    May 7, 2015

    You go. I’m sure the story will overshadow any irregularities.

  3. Phillip McCollum
    May 8, 2015

    Thanks for sharing the article. I really needed to read that. Fear of those niggling criticisms has caused a lot of anxiety in my writing anything in a historical setting (and that’s a bad thing, considering that’s pretty much all I’ve been writing…). Glad to hear, “Relax,” from someone with a PhD. in history.

  4. sknicholls
    May 8, 2015

    I’ve seen comment threads on Amazon reviews for historical fiction books that went on for miles where people argued over the use or misuse of a curse word, it’s origin, whether or not people used the term freely during that time period, etc… They’re going to pick it apart…and the only people who really care are the nitwits that are arguing about it.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 9, 2015

      And it’s strange, I think, that people are super-critical of books but they let things slide in movies and TV. Maybe because movies and TV are visual and you’re not getting the detail a writer has to inject.

      As for obsessive commenters: Get a life!

  5. 1WriteWay
    May 10, 2015

    Is that Aunt Daddy in those photographs???????
    There will always be someone to quibble over details, but you don’t need to.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 13, 2015

      Not Aunt Daddy, but hey, someone should do a transgender novel set in the Civil War period! Great idea!

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This entry was posted on May 7, 2015 by in Writing and tagged , , .
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