I’ll start here because this subject touches upon my own work most closely. Truth, as historians understand it, is about verifiable facts. It is about recreating the past as it was. (Nelson, 2007) Fiction, however, has a very different focus it is about entertainment, and truths of perception and emotion, not historical ‘fact’. This means that a writer of historical fiction is in effect trying to balance between two worlds, the world of history and the world of fiction. The conflict comes when one of these forces is out of balance, if the “Historical” characters do not fit into the historical setting or are anachronistic to it, the claims to the work being ‘historical’ cannot any longer be made. When a slavish adherence to the facts of history serves to subsume the narrative and the fictional qualities of the work, it cannot be called fiction.
One of the other big factors to consider, which Helen Demidenko/Darville failed to consider, was while attitudes and actions of the past which are abhorrent to us now, may have been widely held in the past, it is important to find a way of keeping them within their context. I read “The hand that signed the paper.” It really was a horribly anti-Semitic book, because the attitudes of those who worked for the SS were not contained within the characters, but were allowed to roam across the whole book influencing how the reader saw all the characters. As a reader, reading this book was a very uncomfortable experience.
One of the irritating things which happen in historical fiction is where real people become so conflated with their fictional double that the ‘real’ individual fades from view. I think of Mozart in Amadeus, who resembles his fictional double only in that he was blonde, wrote music and died young. The real man was complex and multi layered what most people think of him now is a giggling idiot, who for some reason wrote divine music.
Fiction marketed as fact
This is an interesting area; often the writing of these hoax books is as Ron Hansen says truly abysmal. Their value is in their ‘truth’. When that ‘truth’ is exposed as false, it can only make readers question all similar stories. This as mentioned in the lecture, is an extremely bad thing. Often the thing that made these hoaxes so compelling is that they are about serious issues and vulnerable people, whose ability to speak for themselves is further compromised. It is a bit like, the boy who cried wolf, eventually people stop listening and important stories stop being heard.
This is an area, which though I am not writing in a mode which requires the use of living participants, is quite interesting in terms of perceived ownership. A story is owned by the teller, whether that teller is an oral story teller or a literary story teller. So when someone comes to appropriate anothers story, there will inevitably be a tension between them. I think that as writers it is easy to forget that we are very sophisticated story tellers; our words have years of polishing and the bolstering of literary theory to distance us from the stories we tell. However, for other people, the spoken words of their stories are them, they are their stories, and they are their experience. These are not stories crafted with an ideal reader in mind, but something one person is giving to another. So I think ethically a writer has an obligation to the owner of the story to keep them informed of how their story is to be used, and to use it sensitively.
Forman, M,(Director) 2001, Amadeus: Director's cut, (DVD) Warner Bros entertainment
Hansen, R, 2007, The ethics of fiction writing, SCU 1st viewed 2 May 2013 http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/fiction.html
Schulman, M, 2006, Fiction and the ethics of writing, SCU 1st viewed 2 May 2013 http://www.scu.edu/ethics/publications/submitted/ron-hansen.html
Carey, J, 2008 Whose story is it, anyway? Ethics and interpretive authority in biographical creative nonfiction, TEXT, 1st viewed 2 May 2013 http://www.textjournal.com.au/oct08/carey.html
Nelson, C ,2007, Faking it: History and Creative Writing, TEXT, 1st viewed 9 April 2013