Sunday, July 30, 2006

Accuracy Versus Expectations

I try to be as accurate as I can when I’m working on a historical. I research the facts, make sure my details are true and hope to convey the feeling of the time period.

But what if these conflicts with what a reader expects?

When you are educated in history, the preconceptions of what you believe about the past are wiped away by the truth found in books. Elementary and high school history courses pretty much give a Cliff Notes version of history, coloring the world in black and white, ignoring the fact that our ancestors were human beings just like us, with the same hopes and dreams as we do. And many of the same values.

Anyway, I’m writing an 18th century historical and I know it will raise brows. The language is rough. But at the time, words we reserve for swearing now were no big deal then. They were an earthier group of people, slowly moving towards the bourgeois values more apparent in the Regency period. And the belief that women were not educated. They were and in more than sewing. It was essential they be able to converse about the politics of the day. The upper classes spent much of their time socializing and women were known for the salons hosting writers, artists and politicians. These women were educated.

On a smaller scale, so were the lower classes. No one wanted a housekeeper who couldn’t read. And a scullery girl knew the only way she could advance in her profession was to learn skills, and many times that required literacy.

Those are some specific details, there are plenty more. But in general it concerns me that as a writer I will be writing against the notions readers have based on their perceptions of the past. Does anyone else worry about this?


Tess said...

As writers we do have to walk a fine balance between what WE know is right and what the READER believes is true. It's a matter of picking and choosing our battles. There are certain things I won't sacrifice, but plenty of others I do. Not only to keep my book marketeable, but also to ensure I don't come off as being just too much of a know-it-all.

I'm not implying YOU are that, btw. From what I can tell, you're like me - you strive for accuracy but don't martyr yourself on the cause *g*.

Janie said...

Tess is right. In Dark Dreams, I had every historical event correct. Most of that book was around historical events. Who knew but me?--only someone who know that historical event well would have.

I have not chosen my battles well.

I've been shooting myself in the foot, mainly because I was ambivalent about the whole romance writing issue.

I know this in myself. I hate to see it in others.

Romance fiction is entertainment. The first job is to entertain, the next is to educate.

Also, there are so many historical movies out now that are FULL of anachronism, that the audience does not care. Americans, you audience does not know history. They don't love it like we do.

Yes, it drives me bonkers, but that is my bias, my feelings, not the readers out there.

Janie said...

Tess, your hair cut is great. I need to do that. How did you get the courage to do it. My hair is the middle of back.

Tess said...

Janie - well, I had little choice since by the time I went to the salon, I could barely see through my bangs *g*. And my ends were really raggedy, so they had to come off. It was nothing too, too drastic - just extra layers added in. And I like it even better now it's grown in some more.

Devon Ellington said...

I think many preconceptions are based on what we've seen portrayed in film and televions where accuracy was specifically sacrificed for story.

I'm always surprised when I do research, and read people's letters and diaries of the period how many themes remain universal.

It's always a challenge to keep a good balance.