Fact in Fiction: Bringing Long-Lost Worlds to Life

By Jodi Daynard

WARNING! This photo is not historically accurate. I have dropped Jane into our 2018 NINC Conference photo much as one drops a character into history. Hopefully, my writing skills are better than my Photoshop ones.

When Thelma Adams, Joy Jordan Lake, and I met at a NINC conference two years ago, a remarkable thing happened: within hours, it was as if we’d known each other all our lives. Since then, we’ve supported one another through the thick and thin of historical novel-writing. Jane Healey has joined us as another Lake Union author whose work ethic, humor, and spirit of imagination instantly made her one of the gang. And a strange gang it is: we are women who choose to spend our waking hours glued to Internet archives or in stuffy microfilm rooms or criss-crossing the land in search of seemingly arcane factual details. We love what we do—but it’s not a life everybody understands, and perhaps that’s why our bond is so strong. 

A few months ago, Thelma suggested we do something for the HNS conference, and at the time, I was working on my 13th draft of a new novel (that’s another story), looking to cut about 100 pages from it, much of it extraneous historical detail. So I suggested we talk about how we research, cull and balance the facts we use with the fiction we create. It turned out to be a popular choice.

We all know the struggle is real, and it’s central to what we do. Almost every day on the Historical Novel Society Facebook page, someone asks, “How do you know when you’ve researched enough?” “What details should I include?” Or finally, “When is it allowable to stray from the facts?” We’re excited to answer these questions in our one-hour panel discussion, FACT IN FICTION: BRINGING LONG-LOST WORLDS TO LIFE.  I can’t wait to see what my co-panelists have to say! 

In our discussion, Jane, Thelma, Joy and I will get into the nitty gritty of what we do and how we do it: how we find our facts, how much we rely on the Internet, whether we travel to the places we write about, and how we determine which facts will remain on the cutting floor. Are some kinds of facts more “sacred” than others? Dress codes, etiquette, political events, speech patterns, mores—there are so many facts to weigh and juggle! Since we have all portrayed real historical figures in our work, one interesting question will be how each of us musters the confidence to portray well-known figures such as John Adams, Julia Child, George Vanderbilt, or Wyatt Earp? Finally, how do we keep our stories from getting bogged down by the kind of historical detail we adore but our readers might find tedious?

Come join us for a discussion that should be of interest both beginners and seasoned professionals who, like us, continue to grapple inwardly with the best practices regarding the mixing fact and fiction in writing historical novels. 


Sign up for the 2021 Historical Novel Society Conference to attend this exciting panel.

Thursday, June 24, 1:30-2:30PM (CT)

FACT IN FICTION: BRINGING LONG-LOST WORLDS TO LIFE

Thelma Adams, Jodi Daynard, Jane Healey, Joy Jordan-Lake

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