Before I started writing novels, I hardly read fiction. I was a research junkie. I loved to read history books, books with tons of research and information, especially data that wasn’t taught in school. There is so much we don’t know. There is so much we assume because of how we were educated in our youth. We take a great deal for granted.
When writing a fiction novel, especially a historical fiction novel, there is a great deal of research that goes into the project. I’ve read quite a bit of so-called historical fiction since I became a writer and found that much of it is wanting. People tend to play loose and fast with facts, intermixing time periods and period dress, probably thinking their audience won’t notice – and many probably don’t.
I want my stories, as much as possible, to hold up to a great deal of scrutiny. Because it is fiction, there will be elements that are looser than others but they shouldn’t be obvious or egregious. We shouldn’t be reading a story of knights in the 10th century with all the pageantry, showmanship and class distinctions of the 16th century. It would be like soldiers running around a World War One battlefield with M2 Browning Heavy Machine Guns. The reader who doesn’t know history might not notice the error but the author should take greater care.
The most difficult part of having all this knowledge of history when writing, is how to incorporate it without turning the fiction novel into a slow, plodding history book. I’ve seen authors who try too hard and want to share everything they’ve learned with their readers, even if it is not relevant to the story. With all the research I do, much of it will never be used in my novels.
And when I do incorporate it, I have to blend it into the story so you don’t notice you’ve just learned something. Imagine eating a cake and being able to taste the eggs. We know there are eggs in there but they are blended and baked to the point where they are part of the product and we don’t notice them – we don’t even care that they are in there.
That’s how historical elements should be in a work of fiction. A difficult challenge. Don’t incorporate more than needs to be said but blend what you do use in so no one really notices it is there.
Allen M Werner is the Author of the Epic Historical Dark Fantasy series – The Crystal Crux.