Historical romance authors need to decide how much true history to incorporate into their novels. Balancing interesting, realistic plots and settings while not overpowering the romance can be a challenge. We are writing fiction, yet the addition of the word "historical" on the spine implies the inclusion of some actual history. As a reader, I’m not all that fond of novels where, for example, the historical element goes no further than having the hero/heroine romp about in a castle and do castle-y things. Yet often real history conflicts with the story you want to write. How much can you stray from what really happened without being inaccurate and/or alienating readers?
For example, is it ok to compress distance/time if your hero/heroine need to get between two places faster than actual travel time permits? Put the king somewhere he might not have been so your h/h can interact with him? Imply details about a real place you’re having trouble tracking down information about? Alter the role a real historical figure played?
The farther back you go, the fewer original documents such as letters and contracts that exist. The more researchers have to speculate. The harder it is to translate from original languages. I’m often surprised how seemingly reliable sources can disagree on what actually happened and/or when/where. It’s like striking gold when I come across more than one source that says something like, “No one knows exactly when X took place or how Y happened,” or when accounts differ, for example, as to the weather on a given day or the specific location of a battle. I’m free to fill in the blanks as I see fit.
And which sources should an author rely on? Many agree that Wikipedia, for example, is a starting off point but not a final authority. If one research book written by a professor says Y and another says Z, which do you trust? What if you don’t have access to primary sources?
Some authors insert a note to explain how they have stretched, ignored or adapted the truth to suit the purposes of their stories. I prefer this to reading and wondering what did or didn’t actually happen. But there’s a “going too far” line authors can cross that I’ll only know when I see it.
What do you think?
A few articles on this topic:
Medieval Sourcebook: Why Study History Through Primary Sources
Purdue Online Writing Lab