Facing Historical Inaccuracy Questions

By now I’ve done a few library chats, which are fantastic. You sit in a room full of people who have read your book (or are pretending they’ve read it) and you get to connect to everybody there in different ways. It’s so interesting to hear how people approach your story. I think I look at it through a very specific type of lens – like I’m trying to puzzle out the why of the reaction, and not just responding to it. Each to their own, and all that.

Traditionally, though, I’ve found, is that sitting right next to me will be one particular type of reader. A reader who is very heavily invested in finding as many flaws in your research as possible. And then seems to take great delight in detailing them all.

I also received a fan letter (I know? Right! How amazing?!) which had one paragraph full of kindness (aw) and then five paragraphs of my historical inaccuracies. I actually had answers for a lot of them, but answering them feels like being defensive over something not worth defending.

Mark Twain famously said, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” – and I wholeheartedly agree. I will always do my utmost to get every conceivable detail correct, but – with full honestly – I really don’t care if I miss the mark on some things. I know this will sound like sacrilege – but truly, I don’t. I don’t care if a person wouldn’t have said “pop the boot” in 1961. You get what I mean by that, right? Does it actually matter?

The 2000 film Gladiator had a director’s cut edition released on DVD a few years ago (which was awful) and attached to this was an in-depth documentary on the making of the film (which was fantastic). In this he detailed how they came to design the amount of armoured skirt the roman soldiers wore. Apparently the garb worn way back when was far more garish, and far shorter. We’re talking stubbies short. So they had a choice: work with accuracy in mind, or work in an effort to make things palatable for a modern audience. They chose the latter.

Now taking this argument to its logical extreme – that you don’t have to care about historical accuracy at all – is also worrying. Or is it? Would it really matter, in a work of fiction, that something anachronistic occurs? Sometimes it does, for me. But I try not to let it. I remember watching Windtalkers as a kid (hot dang if you have not seen it there’s Nic Cage and WW2 and John Woo get thee to a downloadable-film-streaming-whatever now) and Nic Cage picked up a .50 cal and started firing it from the hip with one hand. That certainly took me out of the film. But I’d just been into WW2 history – watching Band of Brothers, reading Ghost Soldiers, and so on – so I knew this was inaccurate. It certainly wrecked my enjoyment of the film.

So what purpose does being invested so heavily in detail serve?

I find it strange that people would read a book, or watch a film, or listen to a piece of music in an effort to simply nitpick accuracy. I get the why – it makes you feel superior, no? – but surely it mustn’t be enjoyable. I’d say the best bet is to be on the side of the creator – give them the benefit of the doubt. Just – come on. Get into the mood of the thing, not in the detail of it. There’s no heart to be found in that.

Or am I wrong?

P.S. It may have been a BAR rifle that I’m thinking of in Windtalkers, as I can’t find evidence of my memory being real. But here is Nic Cage. Enjoy all that he is.



8 thoughts on “Facing Historical Inaccuracy Questions

  1. Theresa Smith Writes says:

    I do agree with you on the nitpicking. I’ve never been able to understand why someone would approach literature, film, etc. with the purpose of pulling it apart. Why go to the effort? And are they geniuses with photographic memories or do they just Google random stuff throughout in a bid to find something, anything at all, wrong with what’s in front of them. But then, on the other side of this argument, you can have people who are quite passionate about certain areas of history, and they read and watch all they can on a topic. I can understand how they might get miffed at a major faux pas. And by major, I mean something that just can’t be possible within the era of the work in question. Is that sloppy research or literary license? In the end, it’s good to bear in mind that it’s fiction, which is by definition made up, and if someone really has an issue, my suggestion is to switch to non-fiction for entertainment and go your hardest.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. benlhobson says:

      Utterly agree with all you’ve said here. When can sloppy research be accurately estimated. I know how hard I worked on the detail in my book but I’m very sure there are errors. I used cling wrap metaphorically and a reader pointed out to me that cling wrap wasn’t a thing until a few years later in Aus – I’m just not sure I’d ever be able to find that sort of thing out…?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. mariemclean says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the comments made by Theresa!
    I think some people either have too much time on their hands, or nothing better to do.
    I remember listening to an interview with you, Ben, when said you purposely didn’t visit the island featured in your book because it may have affected the way you wrote the story. I’m more than happy to sit back and enjoy an author’s interpretation of events, however tweaked they may be.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hoki Hubby says:

    Research? What’s that again?!
    I’ve written all sorts of yarns, yet to see that light of day,m based all over the globe in carious time frames and centering around certain events, both real and imagined. I have named streets and roads, neighbourhoods, entire provinces but damned if I know the postcodes and buggered if I care.
    I am simply trying to give a touch of tangible (see what I did there?) realism to the imagined and re-worked. As far as I am concerned it is about fitting a few facts and accuracies to the story, for authenticity, not fitting the imagery to the real.
    Of course, is authenticity even necessary? I don’t reckon. Unless you are trying to be the next Tom Clancy, or even steal some of his readership, then let it go.
    Nic Cage rocks!


      1. benlhobson says:

        Haha. No worries at all. And yeh, agreed. I guess if you have this attitude you’ll be faced with the questions so as long as you’re ok saying, “meh” then it works! You hoping your work will get out there eventually?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hoki Hubby says:

        ‘Meh’ can be such a powerful word. Big fan of it. Yes, fervent hope to get the works out there, eventually being the key word I guess. Starting the search and the submitting now… not an easy thing from little old New Zealand


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