Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Never-Ending Battle: Story vs. History

Over at the Historical Novel Society discussion list, a lively debate is again raging over historical accuracy vs. the elements of story in historical fiction. The basic question is: How far can writers of historical fiction bend the truth before they've overstepped the bounds of writing responsibly? The topic was stirred up recently when someone posted a link to a Publishers Weekly article by Peter Mandel, which raises the question of whether or not we over-analyze fiction (both books and movies) in regards to their accuracy, rather than just allowing ourselves to enjoy them.

I have an opinion, but I'm interested in hearing from others, readers and writers.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking of writing fantasy.

Until later,


Anita Davison said...

Fantasy, eh Gemi? What era? Total fantasy or a medieval style? That's an interesting change, as I find your historical research faultless - not that I'm the expert.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

I'm in awe of the imaginative capabilities of fantasy authors (Tolkein, Brooks, Donaldson) - but actually I don't think I could pull it off. I just wish I had that much creative license, as I'm always in fear of being called on inaccuracies (and I'm sure I have some).

Anne Gilbert said...

This is actually a good question. I've read some historical fiction which sticks very close to whatever the truth is, yet tells a fascinating story I recently read The Hereitic's Daughter, which falls into this category, although from the point of vfiew of an 11-year-old girl. I've also read things where the author bent things a lot, whether deliberately or through complete ignorance. The"Dreaming" series falls into this category, and I don't think the author really captured Roman Britain very well. It's definitely her fantasy.

And(this is for Gemi), you don't have to be a Tolkien or a Donaldson(and I don't really like Donaldson's fantsies all that much, on reread), to write a good fantasy. You just have to be able to imagine a world and supply its details. Whether or not this is hard to do, depcendsc entirely on the individual author. Some of us find a more "realistica' approach easier.

Jen Black said...

If the known facts are incorporated sensibly into a "new story," then why not? There are always two and possibly more sides to any set of facts even in today's 24 hour media world. Think how easy it would be to manipulate a happening in a time when word of mouth was the accepted medium, and that one followed the dictates of one's master or died. Death dates are misreported, names are confused and misspelt in the records that do exist. Written history is not always truthful!