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Jun 10, 2009

Blending Facts Into Historical Fiction

Back at work on my Secret Novel, I'm working in a new genre -- literary (in my case, perhaps merely psuedo-literary) and historical.

By historical, however, I actually mean "1978-1998" so I'm also facing a new quadary. When I am writing a story loosely based on real people, what restrictions apply? My account is fiction and names and particulars are different, but is there a point at which historical research veers off into obnoxious intrustion into privacy, or even purgery? Is it gauche to base a fictional account on someone's real biography?

How overgrown with fictional elements should a portait be before it is wholly itself? And yet, if it is too changed, does it not betray the realism needed to tell the story?

[Art by Levi Van Veluw.]


Ban said...

excellent question ... like the corresponding pic BTW, makes sense when you get to the end of the post ;)

laughingwolf said...

good fiction is interwoven with real life, not copying it... fiction, as you know, must make sense on some level....

Liana Brooks said...

I prefer historical fiction tha has solid facts and a few fiction elements. The less fiction needed, the better, in my mind.

But I tend to think of anything after the fall of Rome as too modern for my taste.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Interesting question. My current novel originally dealt with traveling to another universe to clone John Lennon. After a lot of thought, I've decided to change the name to Sean Quinn and change some of the other details. I don't want Yoko to sue me, after all. ;) My novel deals more with the clone than John/Sean, so I think as long as I get the essence of John's character, it should work.

Tara Maya said...

Personally, I think once you involve alternate universes and clones, you're home free as far as using historical characters. :)

Dal Jeanis said...

If the work is fiction, and marketed as fiction, then the word "perjury" does not apply. Only a statement made in a court of law or to an investigating officer or where you specifically agree to penalty of perjury bring that law into effect.

On the other hand, if you are producing a documentary or biography, then changing a known fact can be libel. See Primary Colors for an example of something that's a little bit truthy.

If you are just using true events to inspire your fiction, if the events are not broadly identifiable to a single person, and if you are doing whatever changes in character appearances and motivations and actions that the work requires to have maximum dramatic impact, then you're probably pretty safe.

Remember, as an author you're not after "realism", you are after both verisimilitude and effectiveness. You want your story to be more true than real life, because it has been purified and filtered through you.