BookCoverPreviewI came across this post yesterday, and with the title “There’s no such thing as historical fiction,” it certainly stopped me. I mean, if there’s no historical fiction, then what have I been writing for years?

Here’s the post by Paul Lynch on Literary Hub so you can read for yourself. If I’m reading it right, it is saying that historical novels aren’t about the history but about exploring universal truths.

“Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered,” Lynch wrote.

He says that the accurate creation of history “is an act of prestidigitation.”

“Of course, we read the “historical novel” and marvel at its simulation of the past. But pay attention and you will see the historical novel can speak with cool clarity about what is timeless in the present,” Lynch wrote.

With that, I think Lynch gets to his point, which is that history viewed through the prism of the present is tainted. This is something I see not only with historical fiction but also books that are touted as non-fiction.

I’ll go even further and say, it is the same problem that plagues the modern media. Events are reported through the biases of the writer. This leads to facts being left out, underemphasized, or overemphasized.

I think it is unavoidable. At the best, if you try to create an accurate portrait of the past, there will be things you don’t know and not even realize it. However, if you have done your best as an author to create a believable past and authentic characters, then you can be forgiven such mistakes.

The problems arise when you ignore information because it doesn’t fit within the narrative you want to create.

Sure, it’s fiction, but I learned a lesson in writing fantasy and science fiction that also applies to any fiction. If you want readers to believe, or at least accept, the unbelievable, you need to make as much as you can believable. This builds your credibility with the reader.

If you want to write about history, get as much right as you can.

So, while I disagree with the title of Lynch’s post, he makes some good points. There is historical fiction. Our job as writers is to make sure that it doesn’t become fantasy.

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