The True Order of Things vs. the Fictional Order of Things

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I am writing an historical adventure novel. At one point in time I dreamt of it being a fantastical one as well but when I realized I was biting off more than I could chew for a first novel I downgraded it to purely historical.

Another problem arose: should it be true to the historical timeline or is it okay to take the creative license and put things slightly out of order to work for the story line? Does one sacrifice actual history in order to move a story along or do they choose different events to spur the characters onward?

Last week I asked my uncle to look at my novel outline and get his opinion on it. He’s been publishing children’s books for over twenty years and many of the children in the family have books dedicated to them because of him. So I trust his eye and knowledge of the system. Of course he’s been in the system for years and things have changed a bit since he’s started but he did make a good point. He said;

Am I right in remembering that there was going to be some fantasy element in the story? Or is it now more of an adventure based on historical events? If that is the case, then you might find people raising questions if things are out of historical order. Readers can be very fussy. And social media hasn’t made that any better.

When he said the “Readers can be very fussy” portion I got nervous, because I had reordered two significant events to match the adventure. I explained to him that I’ll be including a Preface or something after explaining the significance of the events and the players involved. My mind still wants to think that that will be enough but I am still unsure if it is the right move. So let’s look at both methods:

The True Order of Things. If I kept everything as-is, the climax of the story would happen very early in the character’s lives and not make much sense unless I extend the premise of the novel even longer than originally intended. Unless, of course, I find something else that makes sense as well. That would create more research work and I’m ready to dive right in by now!

The Fictional Order of Things. Here’s the downside of this one: if people were to purchase this thinking that it was a true historical novel they may be upset over the fact that things got flipped around without some sort of explanation. With the exception of some backstory and the main characters themselves, the main players mentioned in the book existed. I don’t want to give up too much and mention all the proper nouns here, but that’s one thing I love about history – the fact that these characters are so well known that countless books have been written on their subject matter. Do I sacrifice full historical fact just to make the story move along or do I keep my original outline?

I suppose that all these questions are just a part of the normal writing process, and I’ll admit that it was a question I did not anticipate coming to light. I just assumed that readers would automatically accept the reasoning without having to explain it. I am one of those readers who will look up individuals from a historical novel or television show myself so the mere fact that I, as a writer, didn’t take that into account makes me laugh. And perhaps once I figure out this order business the ending will come to light as well. But for now I’ll be diving into a book titled “The River Ran Red.”

Because what good is a historical novelist if they don’t even read history?


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