By Ashley York
Sarah Woodbury, author of the Gareth and Gwen Medieval Mysteries, recently commented in an article at Historical Fiction Daily that the challenge for authors of historical fiction was to make the past “accessible to modern readers without losing the spark that makes the story historical.” I agree completely but began to wonder what created “the spark.” Where did it come from? Many authors believe it is the historically accurate words we use that create the “spark.”
How can we get these words then? Some authors have etymology dictionaries right on their tool bar. I know I do. These are the links where you can put your word in and it will tell you when it was first used…or do they? What this source actually tells you is when the word was first found in a written document. What type of written document? In many time periods, it is not personal letters or even news papers but official documents. That is all that has survived. So does this actually tell you how people spoke? Comparing our speech to official documents today, I’d say no – I know I don’t talk that way. So they’re already handicapped for word usage.
Another problem with trying to use period terminology is that the meaning of many words have changed over the years. How do you know if the word you’re choosing means the same thing now as it did in the past? There are many words which have evolved to mean something else. You tell someone they look terrific. Compliment, right? Not a couple hundred years ago. Terrific and terror are related. Not a good thing. Perhaps the words should just be used to convey to the reader what you’re trying to say.
So what is it that creates the spark? I would say hands down “the spark” is the connection that the past has to the present. In a word-struggle. Their desire to survive. I recently completed my debut novel, The Bruised Thistle, about a twelfth century Crusader who went voluntarily to battle the evil that was taking over the Holy land. He comes back broken, both physically and mentally. Is that such a stretch for our imagination to understand? No. We see it today with our soldiers who volunteered to fight terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. They return injured and scarred for life. The connection between the soldier today and the soldier of the past is their desire to fight to make the world better. It’s an innate quality that all humans have, sociopaths notwithstanding. Doesn’t that give us a much more tangible connection , a spark even, to understand history?
Author of Medieval Romance and Intrigue
New Release The Bruised Thistle available now
I had this idea in my head that in my blog post this month I would pick a fight about how historically accurate we really need to be in our novels. After all, a few weeks ago I attended Angela James, Executive Director of Carina Press’s workshop “Before You Hit Send”, and she made the passing statement that absolute accuracy is not that important and a lot of things can slide if the story is good. I tend to agree with her. I think a lot of people tend to go straight off the deep-end mental about historical accuracy, thereby destroying a good story for themselves.
So as I thought about how best to tweak some noses, a new, odd thought hit me. What are we even talking about when we get wrapped up about this historical accuracy stuff? What does that term even mean?
The Afternoon Visitor, by Frederic Soulacroix
Settle down, ladies! There are social rules here!
To my mind, we’re talking about two entirely different things when we use the term “historical accuracy”. One I agree is essential to any historically-set novel. The other is subjective, fuzzy, and more often than not, people who think they know what they’re talking about haven’t a clue. (more…)
Before we discuss how accurate your historical novel should be, we should look at why we decide to write a historical novel in the first place (we know most of us aren’t doing it for the money). So why did you decide to write historical romance?
From my perspective as a history teacher, I want a historical novel to allow the reader to exist in another time and another place. But you’re not a history teacher you say. Well, if you’re writing a historical novel – you ARE a history teacher. Remember the old Chinese saying “every time you open a book you learn something”. Your readers are learning something from your books. It up to you to determine what they learn. (more…)
I first began writing romantic fiction about Wales after my first visit. I little understood the country or the culture – definitely not the language – but I was inspired by the astonishing fact that, in a country which is so little known outside its borders, a vibrant culture in a Celtic language that has been thriving for many, many centuries and all in a very modern country. This is not a tribal community untouched by modern technology. This is a 21st Century land that has held onto its culture and language with so much success and yet, few people know that Wales exists.
I fell in love with the language and that led to falling in love with the people and their culture. I don’t write factually based historical fiction. I think the best way to describe my novels about 9th and 10th Century Wales is Cultural Romances – love stories based on cultural and social circumstances upon which I can build a fictional existence for my characters.