Historical Mystery Lovers discussion

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message 1: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Historical mysteries often include historical events and figures alongside their fictional characters and stories.

How much of an obligation does the author of a historical mystery have to historical accuracy? Should they just stick to the facts or is it acceptable for them to manipulate the historical detail for the purposes of their story?


message 2: by happy (last edited Aug 20, 2015 01:13AM) (new)

happy (happyone) | 147 comments I personally think an author has to stay mainly with accepted history and if they move or telescope events needs to explain what and why in an author's note and it should be minor.


message 3: by Shomeret (last edited Aug 20, 2015 04:24AM) (new)

Shomeret | 147 comments happy wrote: "I personally think an author has to stay mainly with accepted history and if they move or telescope events needs to explain what and why in an author's note and it should be minor."

I agree unless it's deliberately an alternate history mystery like Farthingby Jo Walton.


message 4: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (stewartry) | 218 comments For me the idea is the same as with disregarding the rules of writing - if an author is going to mess about with the historical record I have to be able to see the point to it. If the point is purely and solely to suit the needs of the fiction, the rest of the book is going to need to justify that.

Also, if I can't see the point, or if the author doesn't acknowledge and explain the alteration, I'm just going to assume that the author didn't do the research, and then I'll start wondering why on earth they bothered to write in a time period they didn't research, and I'll probably stop reading.

(I loathed Jo Walton's series, except for the alternate history - I thought that was pretty well done.)

(Hey, it's my first comment! Hi!)


message 5: by D.G. (new)

D.G. Totally agree with Tracey. If you're going to come out and say something that it's totally different from accepted history, you have to have a reason.


message 6: by Veronica (last edited Aug 20, 2015 07:09AM) (new)

Veronica  (readingonthefly) | 691 comments happy wrote: "I personally think an author has to stay mainly with accepted history and if they move or telescope events needs to explain what and why in an author's note and it should be minor."

This is pretty much my view as well. However, if there are events that have muddled accounts in real life, meaning that even historians have varied accounts of what actually happened, then I think there is more wiggle room.


message 7: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Hey Tracey! Welcome and congrats on your first post :0)

I agree - there must be a point to it. Why write about a historical event if you don't respect it enough to stick to the facts.


message 8: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Veronica wrote: "However, if there are events that have muddled accounts in real life, meaning that even historians have varied accounts of what actually happened, then I think there is more wiggle room."

Agreed. If it is an event that is open to debate or involves controversy then I can see the author offering an alternate explanation. The death of Amy Robsart comes to mind.


message 9: by D.G. (new)

D.G. Funny that you say that Veronica because I was thinking of The Daughter of Time, where the author tackles the case of the Princes in the Tower, commonly believed to have been killed by Richard III. Hell of a book.


message 10: by Veronica (last edited Aug 20, 2015 07:48AM) (new)

Veronica  (readingonthefly) | 691 comments Yes, those are the types of historical events where I think authors can play around a bit and posit their own possible explanations, even if it's not the most popularly accepted one. Though I still think it should at least be plausible for whatever the circumstances were that surrounded that particular event.


message 11: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (stewartry) | 218 comments Thanks, Lauren!

I love a book that tackles the lacunae of history, or looks at what we think we know from a different angle. Give me a well-reasoned and well-told solution to an unsolved historical mystery or alternative to the accepted explanation, and I’m happy as can be. For me, though, everything has to hang together; the author has to make me believe they know what they’re talking about – or at least that they know more than I do, so that my anachronism radar won’t ping.

And the quality of writing has to be there. Impeccable research won’t cut it if the book is unreadable - but exquisite writing covers a lot of sins.

The Daughter of Time is far and away one of my favorite books. I love Tey.


message 12: by Gretchen (new)

Gretchen (eab2012) | 249 comments I agree with many of the above comments. In certain instances where we can never be 100% sure what actually happened, I think it's perfectly acceptable for an author to offer his/her view of the events. However, even then there are limits as to what I will accept.

It drives me nuts when authors completely disregard the existing evidence and develop their own take on events simply because it tells a better story or it's more fitting to the story you want to write. I am thinking of one historical fiction author who does this all the time but I won't mention names because the author doesn't write mysteries. It's also possible this author tends to evoke strong feelings of like or dislike.


message 13: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Cox | 221 comments Good comments, everyone! I was thinking that Lauren's questions was regarding historical details or dialogue, which is very important, obviously, to be accurate. It's really a turn-off when a character uses too modern of a phrase.

But I like what has been said above about interpreting certain historical events in a different way as long as it is convincing. Tracey...you said it well!


message 14: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 147 comments Oh dialogue! Don't get me started on the use of British contemporary slang in dialogue for ancient Roman mysteries by British writers. I can't abide that at all.


message 15: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
I know that many readers are turned off by language that does not suit the time period, but this doesn't really bother me as long as it is not so modern that it stands out as awkward or strange.


message 16: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Addendum to the original question - does it bother you more if the historical period that is being altered is closer in time to our own, i.e., the more recent past as compared to ancient times?


Kris - My Novelesque Life (mynovelesquelife) I think some leeway is okay if it helps the story move forward but too much makes it sloppy.


message 18: by Shomeret (new)

Shomeret | 147 comments Lauren wrote: "Addendum to the original question - does it bother you more if the historical period that is being altered is closer in time to our own, i.e., the more recent past as compared to ancient times?"

Closer to our own time means that there is tons in the historical record. In ancient times there's lots of room for authors to make things up because we don't very much.


message 19: by Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (last edited Sep 17, 2015 12:03PM) (new)

Susanna - Censored by GoodReads (susannag) | 462 comments I give more leeway to stories with settings where our actual historical knowledge isn't so great - so yes, I think.

Inventing a nonhistorical wife for a historical Roman whom we know was married, but not to whom? Fine.

Inventing a nonhistorical wife for Henry VIII? Hell no. (If you do it, market it as "alternate history"!)


message 20: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (stewartry) | 218 comments Lauren wrote: "Addendum to the original question - does it bother you more if the historical period that is being altered is closer in time to our own, i.e., the more recent past as compared to ancient times?"

It does. History is nothing but the stories of people's lives - and when it's the story of people who are still alive, or their children are, it's another level of squicky.


message 21: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Shomeret wrote: "Closer to our own time means that there is tons in the historical record. In ancient times there's lots of room for authors to make things up because we don't very much. "

Very good point. It is more difficult to alter a story for your own needs if there is factual documentation of the actual events.


message 22: by Lauren (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Susanna - Censored by GoodReads wrote: "Inventing a nonhistorical wife for Henry VIII? Hell no. (If you do it, market it as "alternate history"!) "

Agreed. That would be totally unacceptable. It would require a great deal of suspension of disbelief, which would take me out of the story.


message 23: by Lauren (last edited Sep 18, 2015 01:25AM) (new)

Lauren (laurenjberman) | 1622 comments Mod
Tracey wrote: "t does. History is nothing but the stories of people's lives - and when it's the story of people who are still alive, or their children are, it's another level of squicky. "

Yes, it would be even more problematic if the people involved were still alive. Also this would open all sorts of legal issues as well.


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