Hearts Through History Romance Writers

How Much Historical Accuracy?

by | July 14, 2010 | 7 comments

I joined several other authors for tea this last weekend, and one of the things we discussed was how much accuracy do we want or need in historical romance.

Being a history teacher, i like stories to be as accurate as possible. At our tea we generally agreed that as long as the plot doesn’t turn on a historical inaccuracy, error or anachronism, then it was acceptable. What I strive for is authenenticity for the time period I’m writing.

But again, because of the teacher background, I include Author’s Notes in to explain anything Imight have changed or altered that the reader might question.

All this is easier to show by example, so here are the notes from
Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold.

Author’s Notes

Writing fiction can be difficult for the historian. The fiction half of me says ‘what if’ when the historian half of me says ‘but it happened this way’. So I have compromised, bending history ro fit my story and hope these notes will be of insterst to those readers who want to know the factual history.

Although the Pinkerton Agency is more wll know, the Wells Fargo Company did, in fact, have its own detective force. Among these notables wer Fred Dodge and James Hume. dodge once held down a job as a deputy in Tucson while working undercover for Wells Fargo. James Hume, the cheif of detectives, was one of the pioneers in the field of scientific investigations, catching the notorious stagecoach bandit Balck Bart, by tracing a laundry mark on the bandit’s handkerchief. Wells Fargo also employed a corps of young boys to ride messages around San Francisco at twenty-five cents a message.

In the 1880s thre were no laws rstricting the conduct of a law enforcement officer. A detective of that era wasn’t constricted by such concepts of forcible entry, illegal search and seizure or jurisdictions. Wes’s activities in pursuit of his job would have benn considered legal and acceptable.

For the purpose of my story Ihave made some changes and additons to Durango’s fire. The fire actually started on July 1st, but Ihave moved it ot several weeks later. A stiff wind fanned the blaze which burned over seven blocks. Half a million dollars in business and residential property went up in smoke as the residents tried everything, including dynamite to stop the fire. The actual cause of the fire was never determined, so I have supplied one out of my ‘what if’.

The two major smelters that operated in Durango eventually consolidated due to the business climate in the late 1890s. The way Wes shows Julie to refine gold using quicksilver was one of the standard small scale methods used at the time. Today more is known abaout the hazards of mercury poisoning.

For events in Philadelphia, those familiar with histry will recognize that I have anticipatd history by a few years, and have borrowed the concept of Hull House in Chicago which opened in 1889 as a model for the Bradley Center. I similarly borrowed the idea of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in 1910 for he scandal involving Julie’s sister.

And last, condoms make from latex rubber haave benn available since the 1840s and were called, appropriately enought, ‘rubbers’. The primary prupose was for the prevention of sexually transmitted disease with the side benefit of contraception.

So, how do you feel about historical accuracy in your work? As a reader, how much do you care about historical accuracy and authenticity?


  1. Terry Blain

    Yikes, what happened to all the spaces between paragraphs? I'll try to fix that.

  2. Sally

    I follow your method in wanting accuracy but filling in and tweaking with the "what if" although I love historicals because of the history. Go figure.

  3. Kathy

    Terry an intresting post. My first writing was a Lord of the Rings fan fiction I took that story to the next generation. Based on searches of information about Aragorn and Arwen and their children. I based my story on their children. The next thing I wrote was a western. I used silver and a silver mine as heroine's problems with her ranch. It was unknown to her and the bad guys wanted it. ANyway my husband spouts off I never heard of a silver mine in the entire state of Texas. I proved him wrong with my research. Harlequin rejected my story for episodic plot and developing romance not being strong enough. Live and learn I had them fall in love early in the beginning then rewrote and revised it to later. But I love history and historicals always pique my interest as I wonder are these events real. Thanks for sharing your methodology. SOrry for blathering on.

  4. Liz Flaherty

    Good post and good question. 🙂 I know if there is too much license taken with facts I happen to know, it's a distraction from the book. However, I don't know that many facts, so… I like Author's Notes in books, though, when they explain their departures from the absolute truth–makes the reader a part of the story.

  5. Terry Blain


    I think historical readers LIKE history, so that's why I try to make my stories as authentic as possible.

  6. Terry Blain


    Historical writers like to do research, and I'd been like your husband, I've never heard of a silver mine in Texas. Good research.

  7. Terry Blain


    I agree with you. If there is too much 'fiction' in the history, then I just don't enjoy the story. And if it's a careless error – it really bothers me.

    I still remeber the Regency story where someone referes to Napoleon as the Sicilian.



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