Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Getting the history right...

Every year I judge a few contests. It's one of the ways I like to give back to RWA. And every year I find myself so frustrated by people who don't seem to do their research. Now there are some things that are obscure and hard to find out, and that's fine.

But there are basic things that can be found easily with a quick search that just seem to be ignored. And words that get used that yank me right out of the story. And it frustrates me. Why bother writing a historical if you're not going to do the research? Now obviously, we can't write in Middle English, but don't use words that are so clearly out of period. And again, a quick check at Etymonline and (which seems to have added some etymological entries) will tell you whether or not you're way off base.

And don't assume you know something about a period. Really - that's very dangerous. I can't even count the number of times I've been caught out by that - thinking I KNOW something, when in fact I'm dead wrong.

But I still go back to my question - why write a historical if you don't want to at least make a half-decent attempt at recreating that world? Is it the pretty costumes? The heroes in armour? What?

This is a plea to all those who want to write a historical romance - do your research. Please. Even if it's just a wall paper historical, you need to get the basics right.

Ok - rant over.


Currently Reading: The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch
Link of the Day: History Buff - Author Michelle Moran's blog


Ashley said...

Thanks for the tip about Etymonline and I'll have to start checking those.
It's nice to find a blog with such useful tips and links.

Melissa Marsh said...

Not getting your facts right yanks the reader completely out of the story and ends up turning the book into a "wall-banger." And there are so many ways to find out the info that there's really no excuse NOT to do your homework.

Good post and good reminder!

Rene said...

I once did a crit for someone and I found something really out in left field in her Tudor era historical. When I asked her where she got the information, she told me she got it from a Bertrice Small novel. AAAARRRGGHH!

Most of the time inaccuracies infuriate me, particularly when they are done by multi-pubs. However, one of my favorite historical authors from the 80's wouldn't have known a genuine historical fact if it bit him on the nose. But he was such a good writer, I didn't mind. Most writers aren't that good.