Post five! I wonder how long I will keep up with how many posts I’ve written…
Hello and welcome back to Life of Heritage! Today I have a special blog post. A dear subscriber asked me to write a series on Writing Myths/Historical Myths. So while this won’t be a monthly series, I will be gathering more information for this topic in particular! Hope you enjoy this post that has been begging to be written for a few months now. Without further ado, let’s hop to it!
A few months ago, I read a post that said one should never let history get in the way of a good story. Fiction before fact. I have to disagree with this bit of advice. Let me explain why.
History is unyielding. No matter how much you want to change it (like our textbooks today!) you cannot truly change history. It is as it was and just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean you can change it. Gen. U.S. Grant owned slaves, so it would be silly for me to write a story about a staunch abolitionist conversation between him and my main character. I don’t like it that he owned slaves. I don’t like slavery at all, but I cannot erase it from history.
Your readers won’t trust you. When you keep most of your history straight in your story, but change a timeline to suit your story, your readers will assume you are telling the truth. I can’t say that Stonewall Jackson died on May 15th just because I want to make sure one of my characters has enough time to ride all the way to Florida to fetch a long lost relative and make it back in time to hold his hand as Stonewall dies. That’s ridiculous. But what’s worse, I’ve lied to my readers by giving them a false date. Now, I understand adding fictional events to a story, like a skirmish or a debate or a town meeting or a conversation between a fictional character and a real person, but never change historical fact. Your readers will feel betrayed when they dig into the story and find out you lied.
You don’t have to add to history to make a point. If you are writing something fictional about a real character, it must be consistent with his character or be based on something they actually did. Now, I’ll give you four examples that will help you understand what I mean.
I said all that to say this: You can use real people in fictional circumstances as long as it is believable that they really would have done that, and it doesn’t conflict with historical fact. The situation/reaction must fit their personality. This is part of what is called Creative License.
But if you don’t get anything else from this post, get this. You do not change History to accommodate your novel. Ever. Your novel is flexible; History isn’t.
I hope this post was helpful for those writing Historical fiction. It can be confusing trying to find difference between lying and creative license. The absolute best advice I can give you is to pray over the scene. Ask God if that’s a scene He would want you to write. Your parents would be a big help too, or a fellow Historical Fiction author. It helps to bounce ideas off each other!
Have a blessed day!
Christian. American. Southern. Author.