Monday, January 28, 2013

Historical Accuracy

I'm a reader and writer of historical novels. I'm also one who enjoys history and when different technologies were invented. As a reader it bothers me when facts are incorrect.
Recently I read or started to read a book by a traditionally published author. I never finished it because the author had two critical, in my view, and horrible errors. One item used had not been invented yet. The other was in what would be in a field at the time of the year and how the field would be tended. Neither of these would have been difficult to learn about to make them correct or change the story so they would not be wrong. I never finished the book.

I contacted the author detailing the problems. The reply was that the editor didn't say anything so it was all right.

I'm sorry, it is not the editor's job to fact check the author's work. Historical accuracy is the responsibility. We have at our fingertips the possibility to find out the facts so errors are not included in our work. While writing Healing Love, Cottonwood Series #1 I checked out a number of things. Set in 1875 I learned that stethoscopes were in use but medical thermometers were not. So the main male character, a doctor, had a stethoscope yet laid his hand on the forehead to check for fever. I made sure wringer washing machines were in use and Singer was making sewing machines. None of this took much time but made the novel historically accurate.

Can an author fudge the details a little. Sure, in needlework this is called a design decision. No one needs to know you changed the design. For writing any fudging of history should be made clear. In Lord's Love, Cottonwood Series #2 the detail of a law of Great Britain was noted since I needed the law still in effect which it wasn't. An author's note was added explaining the law and why I had used it when it wasn't still in effect in 1876.

As authors we owe it to our readers to do the research and write historically accurate books. It gives credibility to what we write and shows that we care about our work rather than simply pumping out stories. Besides, you can learn interesting facts which can be added deepening the story.
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  1. Very good, Sophie. And it doesn't have to be historical; an error takes the reader out of the story. I read a book by a very famous author who indicated the protagonist wore a coat. Later, he turned up the heat in the car because he didn't wear a coat. And ultimately, the author is responsible for his work. Write on!

  2. Fiction doesn't mean you can make up anything you feel like; appreciate this!

    1. Very true. Some basic fact checking is always necessary. It's why I cringed when I once saw a Nativity scene with a mosque in the background!

  3. So true, Sophie! And I did once see another writer put a notation in her author note about something that was not yet in existence in the year of her novel. That notation took away anyone's chance to be critical. When we are not historically accurate and try to get away with it, we leave ourselves open to those who know better. It's tough enough to be a writer without asking for justified criticism!

  4. Great post, and so true! I actually have fun now, researching past technical advances for my historicals. It's amazing the facts you can dig up!