Keep it Real

There’s a reason I will probably never write a historical romance. I have little time for doing the large amount of research required to pull off something satisfactorily accurate – i.e. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Say what you will about the last book, but the woman does her homework, and part of what makes her books satisfying is that particular care to the small details, and the way they’re woven into the everyday life of the characters. There aren’t information dumps – people just do what they do.

However, I’m running through some contest entries at the moment – some of them have a  more historical bent and what’s really getting to me is just how little research is being done on them. I don’t know if that’s because the writer assumes the romance part of the story is going to just carry the reader through (and I suppose in some cases, if the romance is just that wonderful and the writing is great, that might be possible) – but in some of these entries, it’s very clear just how weak the premise is.

Now, I’ll admit up front, I’m not a historian…but I can Google as well as anyone – and nothing knocks me out of a book faster than when a writer starts using anachronistic/prochronistic terms.  In one entry, the writer repeatedly used a word that dragged me out of the story to the point where I finally looked it up – yes, it was an older word…but it hadn’t been coined until 500 years AFTER the story setting. It took me 30 seconds to find that information…so what does that tell you about the writer? Are they lazy? Is it a simple mistake? Ignorance?

My other pet peeve is mostly biological. Again – I don’t know much history, but I do know a fair bit about animals – I was pre-vet for a while, interned at a wildlife veterinary hospital, rode horses, degree in Marine Biology, etc. I took my share of animal behavior classes and been bitten by and/or raised just about every small mammal in Eastern North America and  a  number of birds too. I’ve even been taloned by a red-tailed hawk. It really, really hurts. Especially when they don’t let go.

Falconry and horses are two of the big things I tend to see in historicals (or even fantasy settings, honestly). There’s a lot of good, solid information out there on these activities –>, for example. Not much excuse for anyone who’s going to be writing about them, even if it’s just to flavor the work.

So it irks me like crazy when the hero gallantly rides around on his magnificent steed for hours and hours and never walks him or rubs him down. Or the heroine has her pretty pet falcon/eagle/hawk and it just magically lands on her shoulder or naked wrist.

Very romantic.

Especially after its talons sever a tendon in her forearm and she bleeds to death on the hero’s broken-winded stallion.

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7 Responses to Keep it Real

  1. KAK says:

    Ooo a J. W. Waterhouse painting. Love his work.

    But about the post… Totally agree. If one is going to write historicals one really has to do the research. Even Time Travel demands it. On the other hand, too much historical detail will make me wanna poke my eyes out, particuarly in a romance.

    I'm not going to look up whether the John Cope really did sleep through Prestonpans, but don't tell me it happened at Culloden.

  2. Kendris says:

    I have the same issues with sloppy science. I'm willing to suspend a bit of disbelief for the sake of a good biotech thriller, but when someone starts talking about incubation periods in terms of minutes or being infected with a toxin, it's pretty obvious that they don't know enough of the basics to be making shit up plausibly.

  3. writtenwyrdd says:

    I second that rant!
    There's nothing like people treating animals like machines in low tech worlds to irritate the crap out of me.  And I'm not that knowledgeable about horses except for a few lessons and the ability to remember a few facts I've read or heard or observed…including foot and hoof issues, rest, care, grooming, and broken wind. Honestly, horses never getting days of rest or time to graze, etc., and wet feet in wet boots that never get trench or otehr problems… *eyeroll*  Really, all it takes is a mild amount of logic and/or thought to avoid these glaring errors.  It's called worldbuilding!

    I did a post on the topic of this sort of thing a while ago.  it's something that bears regular repeating for new writers in particular.

  4. bluey says:


    I think you just hit on one of my fears as someone who likes to write historical fiction. That a reader someday is going to call me on my stunning lack of accuracy and attention to detail. And the only answer I'll be able to give is "Seriously? The only thing that you noticed during a torrid sex scene was the fact that the colour of the garter belt was a shade only worn by transvestites of the time?" 😉

  5. mynfel says:

    LOL! Well, okay, maybe that's pushing the need for reality a little *too* far.

    I guess I wasn't thinking on things quite that specifically as much as the general day-to-day stuff. But honestly, even fantasy writers have to watch out for this. Sure, they make up the rules and history of their worlds, but if they're not consistent about things between books, someone will be sure to call them on it.

    And I'd read *anything* by you, bluey – 'cause I know it will be full of awesomesauce. *hint hint*

  6. Danica says:

    You're absolutely right. I actually do hold a degree in History, so this tends to be my pet peeve. I don't mind an author using artistic license by altering some points of history, but do try to follow them. Don't use words that don't belong to that time period. It irks me. I don't need a history lesson while I'm reading fiction, but I would like the story to be somewhat accurate. Make sure the clothing fits the time period, call the garments by their correct name for the time.

    I would love to write a historical at some point…when I have the patience and time to research it enough. Until then, I'll stick with my fake worlds 🙂

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