[Historical Fiction] Friday

Historical Fiction

I can’t believe that NaNoWriMo is less than a week away! I’ve been trying to prep by doing research, since my novel is set mostly in an alternate 12th century England (I know…I know). My intention was to be historically accurate—as much as possible. But when I started researching castles, I realized that my mental image was going to have to change in some respects. For example, here’s a rough idea of what I was picturing:

But Alas, Conwy Castle was begun in the 13th century. One hundred years later. Keep reading to see a progression showing how difficult it is to date a castle, and how people really have almost no idea what castles looked like in the 12th century.

Here’s a floor plan of Chepstow Castle, showing how many renovations the castle received over a few hundred years.

Here’s a model of what the castle looked like in the 1500s, during the Tudor time period which followed the Middle Ages.

And here’s what it looked like roughly around the 12th century.

Exciting, right? A stone “tower” that looks sort of like a prison building, with a couple wooden huts outside? Okay, I exaggerate a bit. But seeing this castle made me go, Eeesh, not what I was expecting, for my heroine who will be living in something like this.

But then to complicate things further, you are not only supposed to get the time period right, but you should also get the class distinction right. Thankfully—as far as I can tell—Chepstow, as lovely as it is, is a fairly modest castle compared to others built in the 12th century. A King’s castle would be more luxurious. Kings’ castles usually get refurbished and rebuilt more often that other castles, though, which is why many (if not most) of the castle ruins in the UK are remnants of much more contemporary designs.

I’ll tell you that I DID find a castle that will and does inspire me and is from the correct time period, and belongs within the correct financial ranking. But all of this research led me to have a discussion with one of my writer friends, and I’d like to hear your input on it, too. Yes, even if you read this post a few years down the line. I’m curious to what you think! And I’ll probably still be working on the novel then, anyway.

How important is historical accuracy in a novel? Would you rather read a novel that 1) gets its history right or 2) tweaks the facts for the sake of their story?

I recently read Christy English’s The Queen’s Pawn. I don’t recommend it. The whole premise of the book was an inaccuracy, but it turns out, finding historical inaccuracies was the only entertainment I squeezed out of the reading. My conclusion is that if you are going to get history completely wrong, you had better write an engaging story so that I the reader will forgive you. I haven’t forgiven Christy English, because the story was not interesting to me. Rewriting history just so you can write about a middle-aged man fornicating with a pubescent teenager is not my idea of worthwhile literature. Lolita it wasn’t.

Ahem. Anyway, your thoughts on historical accuracy?

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