Recently historians started getting obscene amounts of money for writing historical fiction. Thus when such a historian sets out to write a work of fiction, what sort of issues does he face? Saul David, whose new novel Hart of Empire is set during the second Anglo-Afghan War of 1879, writes
I, on the other hand, wanted to give history an undue prominence in my fiction until I was advised by my editor to “let go of the past”. Not an easy task for someone who’d spent the last fifteen years writing history, you might think? And you’d be right. Historical facts are the vital framework around which non-fiction writers construct their narratives; they are, quite simply, indispensable. Yet now I was being told that if I wanted to write decent historical fiction I had to avoid being constrained by events as they actually happened.
Eventually I saw the sense of this. I wasn’t being asked to sacrifice historical accuracy per se. Just to accept that a historical novel, or any novel for that matter, stands or falls on plot and characterisation; period detail is important, but only in so far as it gives a sense of authenticity. It must remain in the background and never be allowed to dominate the story
Historical fiction, as a result, often takes liberties with the ‘truth’: it compresses time, invents conversations and motives that real people never had, and generally tampers with the historical record for the purposes of plot.[Tall tales from history: Are historians best placed to write historical fiction?]
One thought on “Writing Historical Fiction (3)”
“…often takes liberties with the ‘truth’: it compresses time, invents conversations and motives that real people never had, and generally tampers with the historical record …”
Sounds like the exact definition of “History” as it is often written… 1857 is a shining example 🙂