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.