I had a conversation with Tristi Pinkston at the Provident Book Grand Opening about different approaches to historical fiction, and I've often thought about the approach I took to my Civil War series. Tristi and I basically discussed the difference between taking a big look at something, kind of like stepping back and taking in the panoramic view vs. narrowing in on one slice of an event and delving deeply into it.
For example, when I wrote Faith of our Fathers, my goal was to give the reader a very broad overview of the WHOLE thing. Different cities, battles, events, etc. In order to do that, I created characters and placed them in strategic places so we could see all of those events through their eyes.
This approach allowed me to look at the whole of the conflict, but at only, say, a foot below the surface. If an author were to take one particular town, for example, and focus on one family during the Civil War, she would be able to go more like six, ten, fifteen feet deep. As far as she wants to, really.
Historical Fiction is an interesting animal. Seems like people usually love it or hate it. Purist, arm-chair historians tend to prefer the nonfiction approach to history. For readers who like a more humanized, (for lack of a better word), look at history, the fictional element helps. Fiction is also more entertaining, usually, and many readers enjoy that element.
There is danger in fictionalizing history, I think. I felt this weight when I wrote the series. As an author, you run the risk of people thinking that the "truth" as you see it as an author is, in fact, gospel. Sometimes it's just personal opinion. I felt a huge responsibility to portray real, living people as they were, and not to allow my view of things to alter what they may have said or did. I would venture to guess that other authors of historical fiction would agree with me. You just don't want to get it wrong! When I wrote that series, I said a lot of prayers.
Any strong opinions on this, one way or another? Do you prefer fiction or non when it comes to reading your history? Do you like a broad overview or an in-depth chunk?