If Anyone Learns Anything

This is a difficult issue for anyone who writes anything historical…

[From Instagram, July 4, 2021.]

Probably unsurprisingly given where my writing of late comes down on the historical spectrum, that Instagram post got my attention. Some of those “hate” tweets are possibly just bots or disinformationists trying to s-it stir. But some are likely, though, genuinely ignorant people who thought they knew the Declaration because perhaps they knew a line or two, or they even confused it with the Constitution (American educators fight an endless battle with students who confuse the Declaration with the Constitution), and it turns out they did not know it nearly as well as they imagined they had.

That ignorance about the Declaration is in its way an example of what historical authors must bear in mind. We can never be sure about the depth of historical knowledge readers may have upon opening our book. Some of them are probably well-versed (and indeed they may know even more on at least some aspects of what you as the author have written), while others will definitely know less and perhaps much less.

That is a problem. As the author, you don’t want always to be too “introductory” because you will annoy those who do know already. Yet you also don’t want to baffle and perhaps lose those who may not know very much.

About all you can do is tell yourself to let the story unfold and go with your instincts:

[A 1792 excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Kindle version. Photo by me, 2021.]

For instance, we see them in standard history books.

Why not have them in fiction, too?

Thus I like now and then using “journal entries” (as above) and “letters” as a means to “background fact drop” and scene set.

[An 1802 excerpt Tomorrow The Grace, Kindle version. Photo by me, 2021.]

And then there is the weaving of actual history into the fiction within the narrative story itself, which is much of what I do. There is a lot of confusion I feel out there about what constitutes historical fiction. To me, “historical ficton” is when actual history plays a core part in the development of the story, whereas a “costume drama”/ “period piece” is merely fiction set in another time while events outside of the fictional characters play only little or no part in the tale.

In short, The Winds of War and War and Peace are historical fiction – you will actually learn something(s) from reading them.

In contrast, Bridgerton is a costume (steaming… sorry, sorry, streaming service) drama. (And I am willing to put up my hand and risk saying I do not believe it is a particularly good one either.)

[Video by me, July 5, 2021.]

I refuse to assume readers cannot (or do not wish to) learn. If anyone learns anything from what they read of the writing, I feel I have accomplished something worthwhile. For that is where YOU as an author may make a positive and lasting good impression.

Or, at least, uh, you hope you do.

* * *

Lastly, on another, possibly related, authoring issue. I don’t know if you ever have, but I signed up for an author’s newsletter (by an author I like). I have resisted the idea of publishing one myself, but I have long felt I should not 100 percent discount the idea because, after all, I did not know what an author actually writes in one.

[Opening to newsletter.]

Now, I do. I was emailed my first yesterday. I discovered that an author newsletter… is really just a blog post or two or three strung together and formatted into an email.

From my perspective, that is hardly necessary for you to receive. You are here, aren’t you? And you probably don’t need yet ANOTHER email (that is going to be pretty much what you read here anyway).

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

4 thoughts on “If Anyone Learns Anything

  1. I think there is a lot of confusion about historical fiction too, and I completely agree with your definition. I like to see a reasonable engagement with the events and attitudes of the time, not just using it as background. I have often said, there is historical fiction and there is historical fiction, and I do get annoyed when specific historical events, such as, maybe a world war, seem to have had no impact on the characters at all! One of the main reasons that I read historical fiction is because I want to learn something about people from a different time and place than my own.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I sense also among writers there is a bit of snobbiness at play as many seem to want their historical tale to be termed “historical fiction” simply because it is placed somewhere in history. To be historical it has to be grounded in chronological fact and real events. “Historical fiction” is not just about stating it is 1776 and giving characters wigs, swords, and bodices.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up reading Susan Howatch sagas and always felt I learned so much. I love her books to this day. Re the newsletter, I have a friend who sends them out regularly with great success, but I’ve no idea where she finds the time or the energy. I have a hard enough time getting my blog posts out and writing my next book. Take care, my friend! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know my view on learning while reading! LOL! On the newsletter. I think the newsletter thing is probably best if you don’t have an active regular blog. Then it makes sense – a once a month newsletter that might as well be a blog. But there is really no need for a regular newsletter if you have at least a once a month blog because chances are the two are so going to massively overlap that I think a writer then risks wearing out followers/readers.


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