Historical Fiction: Getting the Words Right

I enjoy history, but I’ve never gone into depth in any era or historical subject. I’m usually content to know the general outlines, pick up a few interesting details, and leave the rest. I’m also lazy. Disciplined, organized research is beyond my concentration abilities, so when I write in any depth about a subject, it’s because I’ve gradually absorbed so much information over the years and I’ve also accumulated a ton of articles about it. Those articles are a resource that I can draw on without too much extra effort.

I would never write a historical novel. I wouldn’t dare. Because it isn’t just about facts, which are comparatively easy to come by if you know how to do research. It’s also about language, and if you’re not a native, there is always the possibility that you are going to be tripped up somewhere along the line. The rhythm, the vocabulary, particularly the slang, and the differences in speech when you’re portraying people of different social classes — all of these are land mines waiting to go off under your feet.

When I read a novel that takes place in a different time period from mine, or in a different nation, I don’t know enough to be critical of the research. Unless there are very obvious anachronisms that even a casual reader can identify, I’m quite happy to be drawn in by the feeling that I’m now in a different world, even if it isn’t as accurate as keen-eyed critics would prefer.

I recently discovered K.J. Charles’ historical male/male novels. They’re romances, which seems unavoidable these days, but what I enjoy about them is that the world her characters live in is fascinating, and the characters themselves are complex and realistic.

For an interesting discussion of historical fiction, read Charles’ Anachronism and Accuracy: Getting it Right in Historical Novels.



4 thoughts on “Historical Fiction: Getting the Words Right

  1. Charlie Cochrane is another author who always gets the historical era right, along with the dialog and feel for the times. Unfortunately, I can list more authors who have gotten it wrong than those who write superb historical fiction in the m/m genre. It is one of the hardest genres to write and most never do the in depth research that is necessary.

    1. I tried one of the Cambridge Fellows mysteries. It wasn’t my thing, for some reason. Probably a combination of being bored with academic settings, and not being a myster fan. But I should look into some of her other work. One historical writer I’m looking forward to reading (not m/m) is Hillary Mantel.

  2. Horatio Hornblower. My Dad had a bunch of them. That was before I had an opinion about historical fiction, and they were available, so I read them. I remember liking them.

    I love Mary Stewart’s Arthurian cycle starting with The Crystal Cave.

    But I’ve read so much, and had so much history, and seen so many movies both with and without deliberate anachronisms (A Knight’s Tale, really? The wave?) that I’m very picky. There is too much to read – why read things that irritate? I could never get into Diana Gabaldon because her stories were full of anachronisms and people behaving very modernly a long time ago.

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