historical vs fictionSo I write historical fiction, which sometimes feels like a curse I placed upon myself. Like my fortune cookie said:

You will be bogged down by meticulous research and will never, ever know what it was really like to wear pattens. So there!

PS. These are pattens: 

Early 19th Century Pattens from Boston's Museum of Fine Art.
Early 19th Century Pattens from Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.

Pattens were used in Regency times to protect your shoes from mud, etc. Apparently everyone wore them because, well, the streets were made of dirt and full of horses. So you used pattens to elevate yourself above the muck.

Its just one of those little details that most people could care less about but since I happen to enamoured of this particular time in history, I think they are the COOLEST thing ever.

I almost want to recreate my own pair out of old wire clothes hangers.

Ok, I won’t.

My point is that there is a battle inherent within the genre of historical fiction: Historical vs. Fiction.

Every time I sit down to write, I have to decide: who will win? History or fiction?

Does my character don her pattens, as would be historically accurate? If so, do i describe the sound they make? Is it a metallic, ringing noise as she hits a cobble stone? Or is it more of a thud as they sink into soft dirt?

Do I spend hours researching this?

Do I make it up?

Or do I, in a fit of frustration, say FORGET THE #$%# PATTENS! Thus, losing a vital snippet of historical detail. (But, really, would modern readers care about them anyway?)

Does my novel need to come with a glossary of terms?

Is it going to be that kind of history novel?

How stringent am I going to be?

If i am too historical, my novel runs the risk of becoming a Ph.d history thesis. Or it may sound ‘too old-fashioned’.

If I am too fictional, my novel runs the risk of become ‘too modern’ and anachronistic.

It is a constant negotiation. I need to always find a middle ground that works for me.

Not too historically rigid. Not too fictionally soft.


This is not easy. And sometimes I wish I had set my novel in my current location, in current times, when I could just look around my living room to describe a fictional reality.

But, alas, I must instead peer at pictures like this and extrapolate what it would have been like to wear it…

From Ackermann's Repository 1813
From Ackermann’s Repository 1813

Oh, the burden!

PS For more glorious Regency fashion from Ackermann’s Repository, check out this site!