When I wrote my historical novella Rosalyn’s Ring I thought I knew a great deal about Regency-era customs and history from years spent reading other writers’ novels–from Jane Austen through Tessa Dare.
I still needed to do research, and I still got at least one thing wrong! In my first version, I had my heroine use matches to start a fire. Alas, the story takes place in 1816, and the friction match wasn’t developed until 1826. During edits, I was able to take away Rosalyn’s matches and give her a tinderbox.
It was an embarrassing error that would have been noticed by knowledgeable readers, that sometimes fussy bunch who want everything exactly accurate. Movie-makers routinely bungle the facts, but authors are expected to do better. How nitpicky do we need to be?
In 5 Reasons Historical Fiction Can’t be Accurate author Cindy Thomson delves into this topic. She says, basically, that however nitpicky we’d like to be, it’s impossible to be entirely accurate because:
1. The winners write history.
2. Not everything has been documented.
3. We cannot enter another person’s mind.
4. Some or all of the novel is fiction.
5. First hand accounts can, and often do, conflict.
My take on this is that getting technology, historical facts, and dates correct is important. The rules of etiquette and social norms, on the other hand. are good to know, and wonderful to break. If history has taught us anything, it’s that people break rules, and always have.
Thanks heavens! Without rule-breakers we wouldn’t have conflict, and without conflict, we wouldn’t have story, and story always trumps long narratives of dates and facts.
What do you think? Are you bothered by minor inaccuracies? Would Rosalyn’s matches have made you toss your Kindle across the room?