Writing Historical Fiction (2)

How accurate should historical fiction be? Can the writer deliberately omit information? Should the reader tolerate inaccuracies? In a post at the Guardian book blog James Forrester writes

The spectrum of historical fiction is therefore not as simple as “accurate = good” and “inaccurate = bad”. It depends on whether the inaccuracies are constructive lies or accidental mistakes
James Clavell’s Shogun brilliantly lied about the closeness of the English pilot Blackthorne to the future Shogun, Toranaga, to illustrate the drama of political events in Japan around 1600. In reality, the real English pilot William Adams was never as close to the real Shogun (Tokugawa Ieyasu). As with Wolf Hall, the lies added to the story, they did not detract from it.
Some lies go too far and alienate the reader. Some are too obvious. But some lying is necessary, and to get away with it, one has to be both subtle and convincing. Shakespeare is a good rule of thumb in this respect. He knowingly conflated historical characters in historical plays. He deliberately misnamed others. Sometimes he gave them attributes that were the very opposite of their real characters. And yet he made the drama of their lives meaningful for us, so that we remember who they are. No one is likely ever to accuse Shakespeare of historical accuracy, but who has written a greater work of historical fiction about the later Plantagenets?[The lying art of historical fiction]

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