Ah, accuracy. The word that makes fiction writers, historians, non-fiction writers, and readers cringe. It can be something minor that we all can deal with. For instance, there were so many characters named John in Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel, The Greatest Knight: The Unsung Story of the Queen’s Champion, that she gave a boy the nickname, Jack, for her own sanity. On other hand, in the novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, the fact that author, Philippa Gregory, claims that incest very well might have happened between Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, has driven many historians insane.
In the novella I’m writing, I use the word caricature. Something tells me that they never used the word in 1705 England. Maybe they did, but where would I find a proper word they would use for a funny picture in a newspaper depicting an old lady? I constantlyworry that I might use something wrong. I’ve heard of writers who recruit people just to give them accuracy pointers on specific pieces. So the reader might see a paragraph where a man from the 1200s smoked and say to the author, ”Take out the pipe. Tobacco was only used once the Europeans settled in the Americas.” I might use a sort of editor like that in the future, as well.
My best friend is a writer, but not of historical fiction. I often have her critique my work. She and I sometimes disagree on how far from the truth I can stray. To be fair, I think everyone in the business disagrees about this and it differs from case to case. The King’s Speech gave incorrect dates, but I was okay with it in that particular case because using the exact dates might have made the film awkward.
Can an author get away with inaccuracy if he or she does not claim accuracy? Some historians said that they may not have minded The Other Boleyn Girl if Ms. Gregory had not stated that her work was accurate. The play, The Lion in Winter, about Henry II’s court, was about as fictional as a period piece can be. Still, playwright, James Goldman, recognized that it was complete fiction with real characters thrown in.
What do you think about accuracy? What’s cringe worthy and what’s not? Leave a comment!