2013 Reader Survey … a peek at the comments

I’m tired of crunching numbers so I decided to take a peek at the write-in comments from the survey. I designed this year’s survey to minimize the amount of work I had to do tabulating responses — believe me, wading through hundreds of responses to an open question takes a lot of time — nonetheless there were a few places for participants to share their thoughts.
Here are some write-in comments related to factors that determine favourite historical fiction:

I appreciate reading full-bodied stories by wordsmiths who engage me into the story full throttle.

If a character has faults this makes him more human. If he fails to gain favour or position, again a believable human trait. It is how the author deals with some of the lesser characters necessary to the plot that puts realism into the retelling of a historical event or time-line.

I like an author to stick to the known facts, and elaborate to make the story readable, but not make up very much. And to tell me which parts are made up.

Characters and setting/times must ring true, avoid cliches. Characters must think and act appropriate to their times, not like modern people.

If the story moves me that is what is really the most important. I have to be drawn in, to be swept back in time and into this world created by the author. I do strongly prefer that the historical elements be researched and as authentic as possible without detracting from the story (it is fiction after all).

I love to be swept up in a good story. A historical setting just makes it even more of an escape.

romance, yes…sex, no

If I feel like a book is trying to comment on “marginalized” groups at the expense of historically dominant types, I deliberately won’t read it.

The lives of ordinary people who find themselves at the heart of extraordinary, historic events.

Interesting perspectives.

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10 Responses

  1. I’m not quite sure how to interpret the second-last one: is it that the commenter dislikes stories with lower class protagonists in general, or that s/he believes the history the winners have passed down to us happened that way to the letter, and disavows any attempts to explore other perspectives?

    1. Interesting question, Janna. In my own reading ‘marginalized’ groups’ are often key to a story. One could argue that women, in general, were marginalized throughout history, or Jews for that matter. Stories about people in these groups are fascinating and illuminating. Too bad I can’t ask the individual!

    2. I may be off base, but I read it as meaning that the commenter doesn’t like stories that may try to be politically correct, ignoring who the “historically dominant” persons in the story might be, and making the historically “marginalized” groups act or live in a way that would not have been historically accurate. But after reading your question I wonder if I misinterpreted the comment. It is an interesting question. Maybe the original commenter will see this and educate us.

  2. Hallo Ms. Tod,
    Two of these looked quite familiar to me, as they are either the sentiments I expressed OR another reader feels the way in which I do myself! 🙂 The top choice especially as I am always lamenting about ‘wordsmiths’ on my blog!! 🙂 🙂 As much as the last one reminds me of why I love reading historical fiction as much as I attempt too! 🙂 I knew I should have writ down my ‘fill in answers’ in case they were to appear lateron! I am enjoying seeing your updates as its my first Reader Survey of its kind to have participated in! Quite awesome how the results are coming together!
    Whomever composed the second thought on this subject wrote it after my own heart! I love the wholeness of a story, secondary characters right in step with the principals! Yes, that is a good expression of why these stories encircle our hearts and minds! Brilliant!
    I’m not as concerned with historical fact in historical fiction – I like the absence of a total fact-based story if the story has jettison off into its own branch of realism. Case in point is how the Little House series on tv strayed from the original research and stories left behind by the original author – yet maintained its own heart and core of believability. I accept creative liberties if a writer can make the segue in a seamless arc of narrative prose!
    I like to drink in history with the breadth of a historical fiction writer for the exact reason that the context comes to life right in front of my eyes in a way that non-fiction cannot always carry me!

  3. A timely list as I have just finished reading ‘The Misbegotten’ by Katherine Webb. Some good historical background in Bath England, in wars with Spain and issues of social class and women’s place in the early 1800’s. How does the book compare with the list above? … Full bodied after a slow start to first third, good characters, clarity on story and facts, swept back in time ( give me modern facilities, comforts and food anytime) romance – yes I suppose so, sex – historic perspective … a good read. Some useful notes for writers at the end of the book. Nice to know that Katherine, like me, has awful writing and cannot read her notes! Best wishes with the continued searching and sorting. Alexander

    1. Many thanks, Alexander. The title alone would have made me pick up the book you’re reading. Sometimes titles are so difficult. As for the searching and sorting, I am currently working my way through more than 5000 choices for favourite historical fiction author. Quite the challenge!

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