588 readers responded with enthusiasm to the question “what detracts from your enjoyment of historical fiction”.
44% Inaccuracies – includes seeing modern sensibilities in a historic setting, anachronisms, dialogue that does not fit the period, poor research, moving major dates to suit a story line and so on.
2% Dialogue – several people complained that using too much dialogue from a long ago period takes away from the ease of reading.
9% Sex & Violence – this refers to stories with too much sex and violence rather than too little In addition, some readers specifically mentioned gory battle scenes.
15% Too much detail – refers to stories weighted down with reams of historical detail, almost as though the author wanted to include every bit of research found on a particular aspect of history.
15% Pace, Plot & Character – in the main, these comments referred to problems that can cause any story to fail. Poor writing, unrealistic characters, slow pace, stories that are too sensational. A few comments spoke of ‘wallpaper historicals’ and ‘romance disguised as historical fiction’. Another reader referred to the problem of ‘history being a substitute for story.
And 24% offered a range of other reasons from ‘I just don’t like historical fiction’ to ‘I haven’t got enough time to read’.
Let’s hear from a few readers directly:
I don’t like authors who just put in “Wikipedia” paragraphs instead of building historical atmosphere. The dialogue and setting should be natural, and appropriate to the characters, not contrived to check the boxes of historicity. The atmospheric details shouldn’t be over-explained like a dictionary, either.
Inaccuracies (minor changes to historical events) are OK if needed by the story and justified/explained in an afterword. I generally judge on the quality of the writing – even a good yarn can be spoiled by sloppy writing.
When an author tries to force an accent in writing. Over the top Scots, ridculous medieval talk, cockney that’s hard to understand…
When the history of the period and the story aren’t seamlessly drawn. If one is sacrificed for the other, it makes the overall pace of the story drag.
When they author deviates heavily from the historical record, such as making up battles or encounters that did not happen. Very irritating.
Oversexualization, wild inaccuracies, grotesquely detailed scenes of violence (Game of Thrones, for example), marginalization and objectification of women.
Characters that don’t interest me, poor pacing and shoddy research.
Too much grit – gore & violence Too much bodice ripping – I prefer to stay outside the bedroom if possible; and if not, I don’t need a catalogue of body positions.
Dry writing style with too much information fired at the reader like a textbook or recited by rote instead of incorporating details by making them part of the story. I like to learn stuff without being aware that I’m learning.
What do you think? I’d love to hear more from both readers and writers on this topic.