Lately I’ve been doing research for my fourth novel and also with my first historical book out and my second very very close to being out I’ve been thinking a lot about historical accuracy.
There’s a lot of history and studying any one section of it well can take an entire lifetime. This can present a problem when writing historical novels. I’ve only got soo much time I can devote to researching an area. Admitedly I usually stick to my favourite era and the one I know the most about, 1790-1850. It’s the regency era, the French revolution, the abolition of slavery and the early parts of Queen Victoria’s reign. There’s obviously more to it than that but I feel fairly comfortable in that era.
The other problem is sometimes the plot and story is deemed more important than a historical fact, after all I write fiction, and to me, writing relatable characters who go through something people can understand is often more important than whether they really would have spent time with that person, or would have prefered a bow and arrow over a spear. If they don’t spend time alone with that person romance won’t blossom and people in battle with only spears get one or two hits in then get massacred, but bows and arrows means the fights a little more even. I’m sure you get my drift. Sometimes I deliberately write something historically inaccurate.
The biggest killer though is that 90% of the historical information we’re taught and we read in other books is actually wrong (yes I have just made that stat up). Though in all fairness, most of my sources these days are the internet and we all know how consistent that can be. Sometimes I will find something out, think I am right, and be wrong. Likewise some people will read my books and think I am wrong because they’ve read something different somewhere else, but I’ll actually be right. On top of that we all make assumptions. Someone may read that people in the 1800’s in the US could rarely read, even nobility, so assume people in London in the 1800’s also can’t read. Most people in the Uk are fairly aware they could, however. Jane Austen’s and Beatrix potter’s sales figures anyone?
It’s history, and by definition of a lot of it no one from then is still alive to tell us what it was really like, and it wasn’t the same everywhere even if we know what it was like in one place. You can’t compare a 1810 regency historical romance with a 1810 American-front historical romance. You can be pretty sure the two sets of societies had very different sets of rules, issues, and quirks.
I don’t write regency historical romances. I actually don’t like them (the whole chaperoned everywhere all the time missconception gets me angry. It was only really London and Paris and there were certain ‘public’ places you were allowed to talk unaccompanied) so I’d really appreciate it if people stopped comparing my historical adventure novels set in the 1800’s, in other places, to regency.
In fact I’d really like it if people just generally started off from the assumption that the author did do research and generally only think they didn’t if some big glaring mistake was made, like having steam power in the early 1800’s. Although, if that does happen and you’re worried, check you’re not in the steampunk genre. If you find you are, and are about to throw said book across the room in disgust at the historical inaccuracy of having steam almost 100 years before it was invented, please put it down gently and make a note to not read that genre again, you won’t like it.
Oh and also people, read the blurb, it helps give you an idea of where the book’s set and if you’re getting that regency romance you want. Also don’t tell me you didn’t know my first book was set in the Caribbean. It does say so in the blurb and last I checked Montserrat hadn’t moved.