You'll love this one...!! A book club & more discussion

27 views
Chit Chat About Books > Should historical fiction be accurate?

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15388 comments I'm currently reading The Underground Railroad and without wanting to spoil anything, this books takes events from later in history and places them in the slavery period (view spoiler), or is sometimes just making things up (view spoiler), in such a way that it seems that it is what was actually going on. It's not always obviously clear that certain things didn't happen, especially if you don't have much prior knowledge on the topic.

I think it's a very good book in general, but this is really bothering me. I think an author writing historical fiction has some sort of responsibility to his readers. It's okay if you want to use fantasy elements or alternate realities or incorporate real events from other time periods, but in that case (unless it's very obvious) add a note at the end of the book explaining what is truth and what is fiction. In the case of The Underground Railroad this is maybe not a big issue for US readers as they have probably learned more about it in school, but it might be for readers from other countries. For example, I read a review of someone saying how much they learned about slavery, listing all those things that didn't even happen!

I wish I was reading this as a group read or buddy read so I could discuss this. So instead, I opened this thread because I'm curious about your thoughts on this.


message 2: by Janice, Moderator (new)

Janice (jamasc) | 50006 comments Some people classify anything set greater than 50 years in the past as historical fiction. I think that's a pretty broad definition.

I classify something as historical fiction when it is based on a historical event or person. I prefer the stories to be as accurate as possible. I'll also classify a story that gives an accurate feel of a time period even if it's not based on an event or person. Memoirs of a Geisha is an example of that.

I think authors should stick to the facts as much as possible. Sometimes that's a little difficult, and an author's note should be included to explain.


message 3: by Kristie, Moderator (new)

Kristie | 14191 comments I'm at a bit of a disadvantage because I can't read your spoiler as I haven't read the book yet. I agree with your comments though. I don't mind when the book isn't completely accurate, but if real events or people are in the story there needs to be a note at the end explaining where the author got the information and what is true versus made up.

I saw a lot of people get upset with the story The Other Einstein because Einstein was portrayed negatively in the story, however I was ok with it (and loved the story) because the author explained where she got her information and how she came up with the story at the end. It was clear that other people may have different interpretations of the material she used.


message 4: by Claire (new)

Claire  | 299 comments I think the word ‘fiction’ is very important. It is, just by the fact one writes fiction, not allways necessarily the truth. Sometimes writers don’t know the truth, sometimes they exaggerate, sometimes they change things.
I agree that a certain amount of the novel should be true, else it would be fantasy. The best thing would be if an author explained why he sometimes changed facts. However, often even historians are fighting over the facts.
I thought this was an interesting article.
https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/...


message 5: by Jayme (new)

Jayme | 2546 comments I am a middle school American history (1865 to present) teacher and it drives me crazy when I read a historical fiction book and the writer has been very flexible with the truth. When I read a historical fiction book I am assuming that they are using that genre to enlighten readers of factual events wrapped around a fictional character. I think it is a disservice to the reader if the known facts within the story aren't accurate.


message 6: by Janice, Moderator (new)

Janice (jamasc) | 50006 comments Jayme wrote: "I am a middle school American history (1865 to present) teacher and it drives me crazy when I read a historical fiction book and the writer has been very flexible with the truth. When I read a hist..."

Very well stated, and it mirrors my own thoughts on the subject.


message 7: by Sarah, Moderator (new)

Sarah | 18196 comments Some writers know what genre their story fits in to and aim for that whilst others will just write the story they want to write regardless of genre. Then the publishers fit it to a genre or readers like on GR. It's possible the book you're reading is one of the latter. Perhaps the author was creating alternate history/speculative fiction but that got lost somewhere. Just thinking about Outlander and how it was listed as Romance because she was a female author yet the book spans genres.


message 8: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15388 comments Good point Sarah. I was thinking the same yesterday and I checked the book, and it actually doesn't say anywhere on it that it's historical fiction. I guess the topic of slavery just makes people assume that it will be.

Nevertheless, when it's so hard to separate truth from fiction, a note should be included.


message 9: by Peggy, Moderator (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15388 comments Kristie wrote: "I'm at a bit of a disadvantage because I can't read your spoiler as I haven't read the book yet. I agree with your comments though. I don't mind when the book isn't completely accurate, but if real..."

Ah yes, I remember that with The Other Einstein. I really enjoyed it too, and I really appreciated the explanation at the end.


message 10: by Peggy, Moderator (last edited Jul 31, 2018 03:43AM) (new)

Peggy (pebbles84) | 15388 comments Claire wrote: "I think the word ‘fiction’ is very important. It is, just by the fact one writes fiction, not allways necessarily the truth. Sometimes writers don’t know the truth, sometimes they exaggerate, somet..."

I agree with what you say. In case of The Underground Railroad though, it's not a matter of uncertainties or fighting over facts, those things simply didn't occur.

But perhaps my annoyances with the book are partly my fault, as I just assumed it would be historical fiction while the author had something else in mind ("truth, not fact", as it says in the article you linked).


message 11: by Sarah, Moderator (new)

Sarah | 18196 comments I agree that an explwnation at the end is good. I've a read a few books which have done this and it's qlways interesting to get extra insight.


message 12: by Lisa (last edited Jul 31, 2018 04:50AM) (new)

Lisa (lisathebooklover) | 9244 comments I'm a big reader of historical fiction (it's the genre I turn to the most) and I personally think that authors should stick to facts as much as possible, particularly when they are writing about people who actually existed and events that actually happened. I feel they have a duty of care in a way. If they do decide to use artistic license, they need to make it clear to their readers that that is what they have done, they shouldn't try to pass it off as historical fact. I have read a number of authors over the years that have done that and it really annoys me as I have actually seen people getting into arguments with historians online because they believed something they read in a book which was made up by the authur but had been passed off as fact. I don't think authors need to play fast and loose with actual known facts, they have enough space to use artistic license when it comes to filling in the gaps such as character interactions, what they get up to behind closed doors, private moments, etc. Also, in many cases, the truth is often more exciting or strange than anything an author can come up with, so why try to change things or fix things?


message 13: by Renee (new)

Renee (elenarenee) | 1633 comments Peggy I thought The Underground Railroad was actually an alternativehistory book. It was more metaphor then history.

If you want a good historical fiction on the underground railroad I would recomendBurning Bright


message 14: by Tricia (new)

Tricia (triciareadsitall) | 814 comments This topic hits home for me as I often use historical fiction books to supplement our homeschool history curriculum. I think things tend to sink in and stick better in a child's mind when they can be experienced through living books rather than just a dry text, but accuracy is extra important in this situation. I find myself googling things a lot when I read in this genre to check facts, and I wish there was a good way to distinguish the factual parts from the fictional ones within a book. Having said that though, I'm not sure whether or not it is truly the author's responsibility to educate us unless that is his or her specific purpose. Some books are simply meant to be entertaining, thought-provoking, or whatever. In these cases, the author may not be concerned as much about fact as some readers are. So that begs the question of whether an author is responsible for providing all of the answers to the reader or whether the reader is responsible for accepting the book on the author's terms. And the problem is that authors can't always know what readers want, and readers can't always tell the mind of the author.

All of that rambling to say that historical fiction is tricky. As a reader, I try to remember the "fiction" part and not accept anything as fact unless I can find evidence of it from other sources. This isn't to say that I don't get a feel for a place and time, just that if it's really important to me whether something is accurate, I double check.


back to top