Quote of the Day: Verisimilitude, not Accuracy

In a March 3 survey discussing the recent popularity of historical mysteries, Publishers Weekly explored, among other issues, the folly of expecting novelists to slavishly adhere to the so-called “facts” of history.

The article quoted two accomplished practitioners of the historical mystery genre:

The best writers ground their captivating story lines firmly in what is known about the period they write about. Many sate the reader’s curiosity about where they have and have not diverted from the historical record in informative postscripts. However, as author Andrew Pepper correctly points out, “There is no such thing as a pure and untainted historical record. All history is narrative, and all histories are shaped according to contemporary issues and agendas. Verisimilitude, not accuracy, should be the benchmark for the historical writer.” Along the same lines, Priscilla Royal, who has written six medieval mysteries (Poisoned Pen will issue Valley of Dry Bones in October), notes, “Even if we rely on primary sources, we must remember that document survival is accidental, alternative points of view often did not survive, and thus we are left with a skewed view of the period.”

One Response to “Quote of the Day: Verisimilitude, not Accuracy”

  • Primary sources have also been known to exaggerate the facts. Some of the troop numbers quoted in primary sources over a number of eras have strained credulity. And as we look at current events, how many times do we hear the statement: “history will be the judge?” It is a tricky business, figuring out just what the “truth” was. That’s what makes this type of writing endlessly fascinating. I just ask writers to be up front about what they have invented – without ANY sources!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.