Recently someone criticized one of my favorite historical fiction writers for not sticking with the facts in a novel.
Obviously the critic didn’t understand the primary function of a novel is to entertain.
In a historical novel, the writer has an obligation to make the reader accept his setting and characters as appropriate to the period. That doesn’t prevent a writer from twisting facts to suit a creative purpose.
As Alistair MacLean so aptly put it, “The key to the willing suspension of disbelief on the part of readers is a good mixture of real things and things fictional.” The formula seemed to work well for him in 28 novels, many of which were made into films.
There is a vast difference between fiction and fact. Webster defines the former as “the act of feigning or inventing; a literary production of the imagination.” And fact is clearly designated as “reality; event; truth.”
Naturally the two definitions are often confused.
Shakespeare’s dramas, for instance, are fiction. Yet generations of readers and playgoers have mistakenly accepted them as factual portrayals of persons and events. Clearly the evidence shows Shakespeare mined historical accounts for plots but doctored them with his imagination and personal impressions. That’s what we call creativity.
If it’s history you seek, then read a historian.
Then again, as Thackeray reminds us, “Fiction carries a greater amount of truth in solution than the volume which purports to be all true.” I’ll wager more people who were bored by the subject in their school days have been brought to love history through fiction than by any other means.