I've been speaking a lot on historical novels this week, and the question always comes up: how does the reader tell what's true and what isn't? It seems that the avid reader gobbles up book after book, and in the end may not consider much whether the author has a bias, wants to influence his audience's thinking, or just skews things to make a good story.

I think authors should clarify somewhere, in the foreword or the afterword e.g., what is true and what isn't in a book. History isn't truth, but novels need to bend truth even more, so it's only fair to give a more truthful version for the interested reader. Those who just want the story can skip it, and those who want "truth" have their chance.

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Comment by Becky on February 27, 2009 at 6:53pm
I would like to say one more thing.. not all facts were true, however there were actual true historical facts about the Civil War.
Comment by Becky on February 27, 2009 at 6:52pm
I have always thought of thought of historical fiction as portraying a story with a well researched plot of an event that has taken place in the past. A good example is a book titled, "Two Brothers: One North, One South" by David H. Jones. The book is a dramatic and original story, meticulously researched for maximum believability. The characters portrayed in the book were written about actual people who were immersed in the tragedy of the American Civil War.
Comment by Dana King on February 26, 2009 at 9:17am
Non-fiction books are fiction. Historical fiction is fiction. So nothing is real. This is getting way too existential for me.
Comment by Bob on February 25, 2009 at 4:27pm
Non fiction history books are fiction. Even when you are there and witness an event, you do not know all the driving forces. Non fiction is opinionated, biased by government and public opinion, and based on facts that frequently are revised and refuted at later dates. You should check out the differences in encycopedia's from the 50's and today's volumes. Non fiction historical accounts are primarily correct, but only from a ten thousand foot view. Historical fiction is fiction, a story, and being catagorized as such may or may not be accurate. I believe some historical fiction is probably more true than non-fiction accounts.

Comment by John Dishon on February 25, 2009 at 12:41am
Conn Iggulden does this in his Genghis Khan series. At the end he talks about where he deviated from the known or accepted history of the time. But I don't read those books because I want a history lesson. I read them because I want a good story. If I want to know about Genghis Khan, a history book, an especially primary sources are a much better option, and hopefully everyone realizes that.

And historical novel should be more story than history anyway; otherwise, just write a history book. Also, I find it more pleasurable to read a historical novel that I already know some of the history of anyway, but that's just me.

If the reader is interested in the history presented in a novel, then he can look it up for himself. A fiction author has no obligation to spoon feed readers with information. We need less spoon feeding in this society and more thoughtful inquiry.
Comment by I. J. Parker on February 25, 2009 at 12:31am
Jeez! Novels are fiction!

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