Is Historical Accuracy Important in My Novel?

You know that moment when you are watching a TV show or a movie and one of your family members says something like “Hey! That _________ wasn’t invented until 1895!” and there’s clear evidence that the show is set during the American War for Independence?

Whoops. If you’re like me, this irritates you a little but doesn’t necessarily keep you from finishing the entertainment. But what if you add something to a novel that shouldn’t be there?

What if you get something wrong?

First off. Your work is going to have some flaws. Just accept that as true and try to move on. My novel has an owl in one chapter and a hawk in the owl’s place later. Now I would say ‘maybe the narrator is a bad birdwatcher’, but back when I was touring or doing book signings, I dreaded the moment that someone brought that up.

But, back to the point, how important is it that your novel is historically accurate?

Look at it this way: You lose nothing by being accurate and careful. Not many people will know that the streets in 1800s London weren’t called ‘cobblestone’, nor were they bricks. At one point they were wooden. At another, they were overlaid with something called ‘macadam’, which sounds a little like a confection to me. Not many people will know, and probably less will care, but I’ve read novels where the Main Character thinks about walking on cobblestone streets when that word would not have been in his vocabulary. I snort and think mildly derisive things before moving on.

But what if that author had written the word ‘macadam’ and moved on? I would have nodded and been appreciative. A normal reader might look it up and learn something.

So my opinion is that you ought to take care with historical detail. I don’t think that you should spend 25 years immersing yourself in every single detail of a period’s facts, but I do think that you ought to do some Googling, take this chance to buy a few books about that historical time, and ask people who know things.

You lose nothing, and for your learned and unaware readership alike, they will recognize your effort as a worthy one.pexels-photo-169657

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2 thoughts on “Is Historical Accuracy Important in My Novel?

  1. We still refer to back-country paved roads (one step up from dirt or gravel roads) as macadam. Now, I never knew that macadam was the brainchild of a Scottish engineer John Loudon McAdam circa 1820. Now that I know, it makes perfect sense why they named it thus… But I digress…

    I agree that being as historically accurate as possible should be the goal of any writer who sets their piece in the past. 1.) It satisfies the history buffs like me. 2.) It teaches others something they might not have known (see example above). 3.) It quells the cries of the perpetually critical who always find fault in everything.

    Speaking of critics, I have to say, I just love that the owl in your novel morphs into a hawk in a later chapter. Perhaps he was a shapeshifter? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know that little fact about macadam! Thanks for sharing! It really does make so much sense, and even helps with the pronunciation to know that McAdam invented macadam. Wow.

      I’m reading ‘The Miniaturist’ by Jessie Burton and even though I know very little about Amsterdam and even less about that city in the late 1600s, but the entire setting feels real to me and it’s obvious that she’s done a lot of research about it. Yay!

      I love the shapeshifting idea! If only I had thought of that 8 years ago. If anyone asks me now (which is unlikely, as my publisher has closed and my book isn’t on the market anymore), that’s what I’ll say. 🙂 Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

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