Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Edward Rutherfurd's Rules for Writing Historical Novels

While reading through M.K. Tod's blog, an entry about the Rules for Writing Historical Novels by Edward Rutherfurd caught my eye.

Here are Rutherfurd's seven rules. I've summarized them here, but visit his post for the full explanation of each rule.

1. Don't invent history. You can add people to a scene; and of course you are free to invent incidents of the kind that might have occurred, so long as they slot into the overall pattern of known events.

2. Try to be fair. The people on both sides of every conflict are still human.

3. You can leave doubt about what happened. Usually it's best if the storyline itself is clear, but there well may be doubt about the nature of historical events. These can remain. Occasionally, you may even want to put a brief note in the Preface.

4. Keep the chronology as accurate as possible and avoid distorting history.

5. You can leave things out. You cannot recreate every detail of the past.

6. Complete historical truth is unknowable. At the end of the day, the novel is a construct. All you can do is use the best modern scholarship available.

7. How to test if you've done a decent job? Take the manuscript to a good historian of the period. Ask: "If one of your students wants to read this, would you say, "All right, it won't mislead you.' " If the answer is yes, then it's OK. If not, then it isn't.