L.K. Hill is the author of the recently released Citadels of Fire. I am happy to host Ms. Hill today and so excited that she is sharing her thoughts about the creative license authors take when writing historical novels. If you haven't read my review of Ms. Hill's book, I invite you to jump over there after reading this post. Oh, and don't forget to enter the giveaway!
Research and Creative License When Writing Historical Fiction by L.K Hill
Writing historical fiction can be trickier than other genres. When writing about an event recent enough that living people remember it, there will be objections from those who remember it differently from the way the author portrays it.
When writing about an era too far past for anyone alive to remember it—say sixteenth century Russia, perhaps?—you run into a different kind of problem. The only way to learn the details of such an era is through research. And there are plenty of sources of information to be found. The problem is, even among the well-respected, academic sources, many of them contradict one another. Obviously primary sources are the best, but since most of us aren’t privileged enough to examine ancient documents housed in museums in the Kremlin, we have to rely on secondary sources, and they don’t always agree. My policy is that the more research you can do, the better. Not only will that give you a wide range of what is believed, but if most sources say one thing, and only one says another, chances are the larger consensus is the truth.
There is another aspect of research to consider. In service of the plot or characters, many writers stray from strict historical facts. It’s always difficult to decide how far to stray and what to change. Most readers of historical fiction know their stuff. They’ll see right away what the author has played with, and what they’ve stayed true to. Deciding what creative license to take with history is a personal thing, and every author handles it differently. For me, events and motivations are the most important things. The point of weaving history through our stories is to show why and how things happened, and how it affected the people involved. To mess with major events or the motivations that led to those events is to give your readers a skewed view of history. All of us who inhabit planet earth inherit our own history, and it’s important that we understand it, in all its tragedy and violence.
So, when I take creative license, I often mess with dates or the periods of time between events, but keep the events themselves and the chain of events that led to them as true as I possibly can. With Citadels of Fire, I collapsed the timeline quite a bit. I wanted to get through much of Ivan’s life, which would have happened across twenty years, but I didn’t want my characters to age quite that much. So, I covered the events in a shorter period of time, but otherwise stayed true to the events as they are recorded in the annals of history. Research and creative license are part of writing historical fiction, but they aren’t the most important part. Feeling the emotion of the story is what will help people connect with it and respect the truth of history. That said, the best way to help your reader feel the emotion is by doing your research and using restraint with the creative license you do take. Readers want to know that the story they just read and loved is true. And that they are a little more knowledgeable about their own world. Remember, knowledge of our past is or inheritance. What we do with that knowledge will shape our destinies…