In Part I, I addressed the issue of “truth” in historical fiction, focusing on facts and bias. I promised to address the “emotional truth” of historical fiction in Part II.
Emotional truth is about feelings which may or may not have anything to do with actual facts. An author attempts to convey how characters “felt” about their time and the facts, the research, provides the context for those feelings, whether those feelings relate to the character’s family, historical events, or the character’s philosophical beliefs.
And that’s the key. How characters face the challenges of their own time and how they feel as they wrestle with ethical dilemmas and make decisions help us to understand issues of our own time. The distance of history and the mask of fiction enable us to draw parallels to our own time and consider our problems through a new lens. That’s the joy of both the “history” and the “fiction” aspects of this genre of writing.
Growing up, I devoured historical fiction. I read works by Jean Fritz, the American children’s writer of biography and history, and learned about the founding fathers of this country. As a teenager, I read the historical novels of Jean Plaidy (real name, Eleanor Alice Hibbert) and remember particularly her novels about the Tudor period. I loved the intrigue and the romance, no matter how badly it ended up.
Now, I read historical fiction all the time. I still enjoy the adventure and romance, but I value what it teaches me about my own world. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction about World War II as part of the research for my own novel, as well as history and biography and reports and diaries, because I wanted to know how other authors present their “emotional truth” of the period. I want to add my own perspective of that truth, based on what I read and what I learned from the stories my parents and their generation told me when I was young.
We are at a point where the survivors of WWII are now dying. Shortly, their time will be fully “history” and we will no longer be able to hear their stories directly. We will have only written, oral, and media presentations of that time. This is my chance to add a perspective from what I read and from what I learned from those who lived through that time and conveyed their stories to me. I want to honor that gift in my work. I anticipate completing my novel in 2021 and look forward to sharing it with the world, adding my own perspective to the collective view of that time in history.