How much fact in the fiction?

Gisborne deserves to be placed in its timeframe. What began as a bit of fun has now moved from fan-fiction to historical fiction, historical romance and historical fantasy. Despite the fact that the legend is just that, a myth, Gisborne -the- man- of -folktale lived during the reign of Richard Lionheart and so must be placed within that period.

As the writer, I was beholden to research the period in detail: clothes, time, religious practice, food, habits, entertainment, sex, medicine, politics, trade. More and more detail to get a sense of where my protagonists lived and how they might feel in that environment at any one moment.

Stacking some of the books

The more I read, the more I found to read until I felt myself drowning in books and in PDF’S from online research.


So how does one sort the stuff out, how much does one use? Is too much enough, or is a mere snifter required?

To be honest, I am not sure I know. I ‘ve read the doyen of historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett with relish and literally gorged on every glorious fact she included in every line of all of the books she ever wrote. And at the other end of the scale I’ve read authors like Posie Graeme Evans and YA writer Felicity Pulman who write with a deft and sparing hand, never drowning the writer in fact; delivering just enough to give an authentic sense of time and place.

So again I ask, how much is enough? I’ve been involved in a lively discussion on Goodreads with the Historical Fictionistas about just this and personally as a reader I know I’ll accept an average amount of researched fact that any writer might want to give. Not too much. The exception to this personal reading rule is DD because it is very much her style, her tone. But as a writer writing my first ever historical fiction novel, I am still unsure how much is required. Without doubt the research must be used correctly; there shouldn’t really be any excuse for saying the clock chimed if the clock didn’t exist in the timeframe. But equally do I really want to know the detail of the canonical hours and how they worked? I love to eat chocolate but I’m not in any great need to read how its created.

My absolute favourites.

My narratives are character driven and I am inclined to only ever give enough fact to give the scene and the character veracity. I’d love to know what other historical fiction writers and readers feel about this and welcome comment! How much, dear reader, do you want to read? How much dear successful hist.fict writer, do you use in your novels?

To date, I have read  48 non-fiction texts that I have either bought, borrowed from the library or researched within the Reference Library and I’ve read  over 20 PDF’s online. If nothing else, I shall have a head full of leads for another story and know the difference between chausse and bliaut!

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