by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2013
f you’re going to write fiction or nonfiction that involves historical data, there are three ground rules that must be kept in mind.
1. Check your dates. Then check them again. Do not believe what you read unless you can confirm that information in at least three separate credible sources.
2. Spell the names/places/objects right. Please, please, for the love of all that’s literate, respect the language of the people you’re writing about and make sure you spell your historical terms as they should be spelled for the time period in which you’re writing.
Example: My current novel is set in Japan. While I speak a certain amount of modern Japanese, I’ve had to learn the archaic words and grammatical forms appropriate to the Tokugawa Shogunate of 1867. That’s only half the battle. The other half is making their meanings clear to the reader by creating the right dramatic context.
3. Watch out for anachronisms. Dictionary.com says:
Edward III is often referred to as the Black Prince. Historians believe that nickname arose from either his black shield and armor, or his reputation among the French in Aquitaine thanks to him bringing a force of mercenaries through on a chevauchée designed to pillage the populace and destroy the farming. Important fact: the first reference to Edward III by that nickname occurred more than one hundred and fifty years after his death. If you’re writing a novel in the time of Edward II, the Black Prince’s father, you’d better refer to Edward III as Edward of Woodstock, which is where he was born. To call him the Black Prince would be anachronistic.
Am I belaboring this point? Damn right I am. As a reader and a writer of historical novels, I love history. Nothing makes me more furious than catching a mistake that could have been avoided with some proper research. Always write for your most intelligent readers. You respect them and they’ll respect you!
If the hats aren’t ugly, you’re doing it wrong.