Too Accurate?

We all can (probably) agree that there’s such a thing as a story being ruined by gross inaccuracies due to poor research. But it there such a thing as too much accuracy?

I’ve been thinking about this ever since I read Brenda Coulter’s post on Regency titles over at Romancing the blog. It’s a pretty interesting comment trail, too. At least one blog reader remarked that readers of historical fiction know and love history, so historical accuracy in fiction should be obligatory. At least one other blog reader remarked that she could give a fig less about historical accuracy; she just read to be entertained.

Where do you fall on those lines?

I don’t want my Regency miss saying “Hello” to the hero, or the young pup dancing attendance on her to lose his dukedom to his bastard brother on the turn of a card. The reader reading purely for entertainment probably has no idea why these two things rub me the wrong way when I come across them.

Then again, I don’t want my Medieval laird hero to suffer rotting teeth or the Sassenach heroine to go unbathed for long periods during the winter regardless of how accurate that may or may not be. I want them clean, I want them bathed, I want their clothes smelling halfway decent, their food unspoiled, and all their teeth nice and healthy. (Crooked is fine.)

But that’s just me, and historical is a sticky wicket anyway since obviously that period of time is over.

What about other genres? Uncoply cops, unnursely nurses, ridiculously precocious three-year-olds who take care of themselves for chapters at a time and spout college-level vocabulary? Does that stuff roll off your back, or does it make you want to scream?

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  1. Bill Clark - Reply

    Great post! I go nuts when I read historical details or figures of speech that I know to be inaccurate. I then generally pigeonhole the author, no matter how illustrious s/he may be, as a know-nothing arriviste who has no business writing books.

    I suppose the reason that there’s no commercial non-stop flight from Tampa to Westchster Airport (a stone’s throw, quite literally, from Greenwich) is because it could only happen in fairy tales. So I guess that means I’ll just have to charter a jet for my heroine… 😉

  2. Erica Ridley - Reply

    LOL, Bill. I’ll have my suitcase ready.

    And I know what you mean… There’s a best-selling author whose books came to me highly recommended from many trusted friends. I picked one up and read it. While written extraordinarily well, the plot hinged on an historical impossibility (as did several subplots) which ruined the whole thing for me, and I have not tried another of her books.

    Unforgiving of me, perhaps, but I’ve got a teetering To Be Read pile as it is…

  3. BernardL - Reply

    If a writer chooses to write an historical, it would seem obligatory to make sure reality around the plot is accurate. (Excluding of course, hygiene) 🙂 Clichéd characters can ruin a reading experience for me. I read an espionage/secret agent book recommended to me last year. The author’s cast of characters, and their dialogue was so clichéd, the book resembled a comedy rather than an adventure in parts.

  4. AngryMan - Reply

    I think it really depends on how well-written it is. If it’s great, you can ignore some of the inaccuracies (to a point, eventually you will get pissed about it).

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Erica Ridley