Monday, October 19, 2009

Historical accuracy in novels?

How much does it matter to you as a reader? How much as a writer?

I have to admit it matters immensely to me, but I'm never quite sure where to bend when writing my own historical works.

Examples of what annoyed me: a spinning wheel in 14th century England. They didn't have them. They used spindles to spin at that time. Spinning wheels came much later.

Men riding destriers as though they were every day horses makes me cringe. It would be about the equivalent of driving a tank down the road to work. In fact, even for warhorses constantly referring to them as destriers annoys me. Destriers were the heaviest of warhorses and not necessarily the most desirable. A rouncey or habelar was often used for their greater speed and agility and chargers were by far the most common warhorses.

Kilts in 14th century Scotland. NO!

I had someone do a first read on a novel I'm writing and he was baffled that I referred to a Scottish nobleman as a baron. But they're lairds, he protested. No. He was a baron. And I suppose I could refer to the Scottish earls as Mormaers but I suspect that would only confuse things further.

Oh, I won't even go into the introduction of feminism into medieval thought. I'm a feminist--a pretty avid one, and there were strong, capable women in the middle ages. They were not feminists, and few women got choices, such as who they would marry. Widows sometimes did, but the fact that when Edward I's daughter married a man of her own choice it caused the new husband to be thrown into a dungeon kind of shows how uncommon this was. Pretending women usually had these choices annoys me, but maybe not some readers. I can't bring myself to do it.

I think we can all agree that you should be accurate on the big details such as who was king when or who controlled which country. But what about those smaller details? They probably take some painstaking research and may conflict with people's expectation, such as the kilt thing that so annoys me. *grin*

I suppose where I falter is what are the important factors and what are not. It jerks me out of a story to read anything that is an anachronism, but I am SO likely to spot them. Would it bother most readers to read about that spinning wheel Catherine Coulter put in her 14th century novel? It sure did me. She got the politics wrong, too. Her medieval novels still did very well.

Even referring to rooms can be confusing. Should I call what was in fact referred to as a wardrobe as an office? It is the closest comparison. I cringe a bit, but the meaning of the word wardrobe has changed.

It's a fine line to try to not confuse people, not jerk them out of the story when introducing historical concepts that they may not be acquainted with, and yet maintain some degree of historical accuracy.

Anyone else struggle with this? Thoughts? Suggestions?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No more politics. But I'm not sure that writing about writing isn't more depressing.

I am currently of the opinion that being a writer pretty much sucks.

It isn't so much the rejections from publishers and agents although I certainly won't pretend I don't get my share of those. Don't we all? Boring subject.

What is the hardest for me and it seems to me for most writers is the way we beat ourselves up. I do. I'm not good enough. I'll never be good enough. There are days--weeks when I'm convinced that the best thing I could do is torch everything I've ever written.

Ugh! Self-pity is not a pretty sight. But it seems to be par for the course. Heck, even with my very small successes I've had more success and praise than a huge number of the writers out there in the slush pile. I really have no reason for having a pity party, except...

There are those days when I am convinced that what I've done is good--darn good. Better than 99% of what's out there so why don't people see it?

There are those days when (see above) I'm convinced that everything I've ever written is dreck.

There are days when I'm convinced that editors and agents must be crazed to choose to work with writers.

Sorry for whinging a bit. I feel better now and I will finish this new novel by the end of the month. Keep plugging people.