Historical Fiction: Equal Parts Historical and Fiction?

When I first started my current WIP—a YA historical novel—I was hoping to use the facts exactly as they were and just fill in the holes with my fantastic story. *coughs* I wrote about 20K words using this plan.

Unfortunately, I hit a wrinkle.

When I started writing my detailed outline, I realized that my story would be soooo much better if I could change some of the facts.

And yet I waffled.

Some things I wanted to change probably wouldn’t be a big deal in regards to remaining true to history. I wanted to change the age and date of death of a rather obscure individual who most people don’t know. I think I’d be OK there. But I also wanted to push the dates that a hugely famous poet wrote a likewise hugely famous series of poems to four years earlier. Ouch.

Could I get around it? Probably. But it might be weird for other cryptic reasons. So I’m still waffling.

How close to history do you keep your historical fiction? Any rules or guidelines that you always follow? Any examples where you decided to break the rules?

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4 responses to “Historical Fiction: Equal Parts Historical and Fiction?

  1. I hear ya, Kip. I’ve had the same battles through my last novel and my current WIP. The current one is even harder because the MC is a real, historical figure. I just decided that I would keep it close but not kill myself if I need to stretch some of the details for literary effect. We’ll see what my agent (and with any luck, my future editor) says when it’s done. I will write a note to explain the historical shuffle board I’ve played, but the novel goes so far into fiction, and it’s obvious, that I don’t think it will be a problem. I suppose it’s a little akin to the Jane Austen mysteries and things like that.

    I’ve changed a few names, more for effect than anything—but the guy is a ghost, after all! Some of the timing is a little off. In one case, the actual event took place a year earlier, but it is a minor issue in the book, so I’m not sweating it.

    • Oh, whew, sounds like you’re managing to walk the ghosting line quite well. I agree that when you’re stepping out of history and into magical realism or the paranormal, you should be able to use more flexibility. Can’t wait to hear how yours goes!

  2. Oh my, Kip, you read my mind. I have been so struggling with dates in my historical. Every time I turn around I find that I’m a month late or a month early. I’ve already had to bump the whole story up one year because of this problem. I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m a stickler for accuracy, but it’s fiction, but still. The only thing I can think is to have an author’s note in the end confessing that I fudged on dates a little. I don’t know. Does that help?

    • It helps to know I’m not the only one struggling with it! LOL I was thinking an author’s note can clear up a lot as well. I’m impressed that you’re only a month off here and there. That’s not too far off, but of course when it means the date of a huge battle or when something huge happened, I understand the desire (and frustration) about trying to be accurate. Good luck! Let us know if you hit any useful breakthroughs!

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