"historical" fiction?

by Scott
(Jacksonville, Florida, USA)

Question: I am researching and writing a book on an historical figure who was born in 1896 and died in 1981. Much of what is known about him is from 1924-1981, but my interest is in his early career (pre-1924). How would one write such a biography if some of the material is fictionalized for continuity and chronology? For example, this figure drove from Nebraska to California in 1916 but I don't know what kind of car - though I wish to discuss the Lincoln Highway (the road on which he probably drove) and possibly the Ford Motor Company (speculating that he likely drove this car).

With a bit of fictionalization would such a biography be called dramatic biography? historical fiction? or something else?


Answer: I think a lot depends on how much of the story is fictionalized and how upfront you are regarding the fictionalization.

For instance, if you want to write a pure biography and some facts are just not available, you could simply tell this to the readers. Let them know that we don't know what kind of car he drove, but provide some information on what cars and road trips were like in that era. From there you can estimate how long the trip would have taken, how frequently he had to stop for gas/oil/repairs, the most likely stops along the way, etc. In other words, you can speculate based on the facts, but you can't make anything up if you are writing a book that's intended to be history.

In a fictionalized biography, you would still stick with the known facts, but you might invent some scenes or dialogue to illustrate these facts. This is often done in popular history. It wouldn't fly in an academic book because an average reader might not know what was true and what was made up. Sometimes such books end up re-writing history rather than shining a light on it.

Historical fiction, on the other hand, has a plot that is pure fiction, though it may include some historical figures as characters. But this is a genre of novel that would never be put on the nonfiction shelf.

Best of luck.

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Nov 13, 2015
Fictionalized biography
by: Scott

GREAT suggestions and guidance! Thanks! My goal is to fill in the gaps of what is known. So what are some techniques to let the reader know? different font? italics? I'm digging in old newspapers but that is pretty difficult (even though I've found some great information). I love the research and that continues to inspire me! Hope to read some more comments and suggestions!

Nov 14, 2015
by: Glen

I suggest you read a few fictionalized biographies to see how their authors handle such issues. (It's good preparation for writing one.)

Also, you might find this article helpful, both because it describes the different types of biographies and you you approach them, but also because it gives examples.


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