A Place for Imperfectionism
Historical fiction takes lots of research and requires more detail than one can ever know.
While writing journalistic nonfiction taught me many useful skills, it also instilled habits I’m finding hard to unlearn. Being literal-minded and trying to avoid mistakes, when I didn’t know, I fuzzed. I got pretty good at fuzzing.
In academic writing, when I couldn’t find the answer, I wrote a disclaimer. “Sources differ,” or “surviving manuscripts don’t indicate,” or “it appears likely that.”
Trouble is, fuzzing and disclaimers don’t make for readable fiction. Unclear whether my character would have worn a fedora or a bowler? My habitual solution is to call it a hat. The thirst for sensory detail in a historical novel challenges me instead to find out or make it up. My great fear, if I can’t find the answer, is that getting it wrong will make the whole story lose credibility with experts in the history of men’s hats.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.