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I am writing Historical Fiction novel.

I wish to add sub-plot based on actual events. However the sub-plot I add may not be consistent with what happened.

For instance, what if a real-life King never had a grand daughter, but my novel says this King has a grand daughter.

Is this acceptable?

Updating question with concrete example:

I found someone, Princess Ada Irene Helen Benyl Duleep Singh. In real life, she married someone in 1910, but in my novel, I want to say she was looking to get married in 1920.

Will this be acceptable in Historical Fiction

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    Well in a world where Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter...why not? – A.bakker Mar 12 at 18:26
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    @A.bakker would this Abe Lincoln vampire hunter story still be considered historical fiction? – Marium Mar 12 at 18:29
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It is my understanding from the literature on how to write that when using actual historical characters, one must stick to historical dates for historical events such as births, marriages, and deaths. As a reader, I also expect those "landmarks" of the story to be accurate. The reason for keeping these important life-changing dates accurate is that "no man is an island unto himself," as some famous person wrote. In other words, each life is interwoven with everything else that is happening at the time.

Princess Ada's Medical Condition

I read your linked article on Princess Ada Irene Helen Benyl Duleep Singh. It seems she had a medical ailment that today the medical profession might diagnose as depression; Google defines neurasthenia thus:

an ill-defined medical condition characterized by lassitude, fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.

The article says she:

  • was unhappy
  • led a troubled life
  • was treated in a "nursing home" [hospital?] in England in 1924
  • made an attempt to end her life in 1925
  • died by suicide drowning Oct. 8 1926

The article also says she was "much aggrieved" by her half-brother's death two months earlier. She was also separated from her husband since shortly before the 1925 suicide attempt though the article doesn't tell who initiated the separation. In my observation, all these things are today generally taken for either the symptoms, cause, or the consequence of depression.

Ramifications of a Princess's Suicide

The suicide of a princess will have had major political ramifications. Not least to be impacted will have been the relationship of her estranged husband Pierre Marie Villament with the king. If he has been in the family since March 1910, the historical wedding date, we know that his relationship, involvement, commitments, and political responsibilities are deeper and more complex than if he only married her in 1920 as you propose.

You may decide to also change Villament's role in the king's family, but then you are rewriting history a great deal. Alternatively, if he has been involved but not married all these years, the relationship between him and the princess will be different; her depression might not yet be so deep and far advanced in 1925 because for the past ten years she will have been courting him either secretly or overtly. She will have been living on hopes and dreams, keeping depression at bay.

That is my argument against changing the wedding date, based on professional training in mental health and family dynamics.

Suggestion: Create Your Own Story

A suggestion from the writing literature is to create a fictional character based on the period and culture, i.e. life, of Princess Ada Irene Helen Benyl Duleep Singh, daughter of Maharaja Duleep Singh. This gives you more freedom to write the story you want to write it.

You can create characters, conversations, political situations and events. Published examples are novels I've read set in the American White House with a fictitious president. These novels compared this fictitious president's character and habits with that of real former American presidents such as Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. I believe these former presidents were portrayed as accurately as possible. Brad Meltzer's Beecher White series uses this technique, if I remember correctly.

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  • If I understand correctly, it may be safe to create a figure very similar to the Princess, with similar pedigree. Perhaps a well-heeled young lady with powerful connections to the deposed Maharaja Duleep Singh and Queen Victoria. As long as real-life history is not altered, even a tiny bit. – Marium Mar 13 at 0:49
  • That's the impression I get from the novels I have read and the how-to-write literature. Historical fiction per se is not my strong suit but you might want to check out this website: creative-writing-now.com/how-to-write-historical-fiction.html. It looks legit to me on the surface. – Sarah Bowman Mar 13 at 1:20
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    Thank you for this link – Marium Mar 13 at 13:43
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I am of the opinion that almost all fiction happens in alternate universes, different from ours. Certainly all stories set the future contain elements which nobody could possibly know were true, except by using time travel, and contemporary fiction and much historical fiction contains fictional characters and evens which can be proved to not exist in our world.

So if your fictional setting almost has to be an alternate universe anyway, a historical novelist can include fictional characters and events in history. And of course, there are many historical events which are known so poorly by historians that writers have to use their imaginations a lot when describing them.

I note that there is a fictional genre of alternate history in which the main premise is things happening differently than in real life. I may say that many westerns and other movies set in historical eras fall into that genre by accident due to the carelessness of their writers.

That said, it is always better to reduce fictional elements that can be disproved as much as possible in your historical fiction, as much as possible as is consistent with good writing. And the discipline of having to write historically consistent stories can be good for a writer.

One historical novel which seems very good at fitting fictional events into the historical record is Little Big Man, 1964, by Thomas Berger - much more so than the movie. When I read it I noticed many well known events in Western history that Jack Crabb's life story was mixed up with. Thus I found it easy to believe that the other fictional events could have happened when and where the novel says they did - I find it easy to believe that Kit Carson was at home when Jack Crabb says he unsuccessfully tried to beg from him, for example.

The novel is narrated by Jack Crabb, with an introduction and afterword by the fictional writer Ralph Fielding Snell who interviews jack. Snell says that he checked everything that Jack said and the dates and places all check out. Snell says that the only thing Jack got wrong was saying that Crazy Horse didn't wear a war bonnet. Snell knows Jack is wrong, because he owns Crazy Horse's war bonnet and the dealer who sold it is very honest.

And of course Crazy Horse really was said to have never worn a war bonnet.

George MacDonald's Fraser's Flashman also seem to be very historically accurate, except for the existence of Flashman.

I have an idea for a story that climaxes in the Great Sioux War of 1876 but begins in 1862, when the protagonist is a new born baby. A young cavalry officer stationed in Minnesota has recruited a young friend as a bugler boy, and both of them have lost relatives in the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857, and so have grudges against Inkpaduta and his people. The Minnesota Sioux Uprising starts in 1862, and Inkpaduta is rumored to be responsible for it.

The protagonist is found as a baby, the only survivor of a stagecoach massacre, and more or less adopted by the cavalry officer and his wife, while the young bugler boy becomes like a big brother to the baby protagonist.

Four years later, the cavalry officer's wife is dead (which I will probably blame on an attack by Inkpaduta's people) and the cavalry officer sees a doctor about his pains and discovers he has cancer and only a short time to live. The cavalry officer keeps it secret, and arranges with Lt. Bingham of Company C, Second US cavalry, about to be sent to Fort Phil Kearney, to go in Bingham's place., and the four-year-old- protagonist and the young bugler go along with him.

In real history, the reckless Lt. Bingham was killed in a skirmish with Sioux on December 6, and an 18th Infantry officer, the equally reckless Lt. Grummond, was put in charge of C Company. In my story, the young cavalry officer will be just as reckless as Lt. Bingham, hoping it it be less painful to die at the hands of the Sioux, and will be killed on December 6. Lt. Grummond will replace him as in real history, and the Fetterman massacre will happen as in real history.

Except that instead of 81 men dying on Massacre Hill, it will be 81 men and a boy. Bugler Adolph Metzger of C Company, Second Cavalry, was listed in the casualty list. Metzger's age was given as 21 when he first enlisted in 1855, making him about 32 in 1866. Metzger's age was probably exaggerated by years in his official records, but he would still be much too old for my bugler. There were a couple of references to a young bugler of the second cavalry at Fort Phil Kearney before the Massacre, so Company C could have had another & younger bugler, who presumably stayed in the fort on December 21, and so wasn't killed.

So I will put my fictional bugler in place of the possibly real second Bugler of C Company. But if he goes out with Fetterman and is killed, why isn't he listed in the official casualty list? For one thing, my fictional 4-year-old protagonist is orphaned on December 6, and General and Mrs. Carrington take him in to live with them and their young children. And the young bugler boy who is like a big brother to him will spend all the time he can with him and the Carrington's will know how close they are, if everyone in the fort doesn't already. So they will cover up the young bugler's death because the young protagonist has just lost his father.

And I have made up other reasons for General Carrington to omit the fictional young bugler from the casualty list, reasons that will shock and anger the young protagonist years later when he learns the truth. He will run away from the Carringtons in anger and eventually find his adoptive father's old cavalry company and join them as a bugler boy.

One of the places they will be stationed will be Camp Brown on the Wind River Reservation, where he will meet some fictional descendants of the great Shoshone chief Washakie. They will be rather similar to your fictional princess of a real royal family. Years later, the protagonist will tells someone he knew great grandchildren of Chief Washakie and they will ask when Washakie lived and he will say that Washakie is still alive. The historical Washakie was in the Great Sioux War in 1876 and didn't die until 1900.

I am thinking of making one of those fictional great grandsons of Washakie the Shoshonie boy who was killed by hostiles at the Battle of the Rosebud on 17 June 1876. That boy was said to be 15. How could a man who died in 1900 have a great grandson who was born about 1860/61? If the boy's fictional mother was 15 to 20 when he was born, she would have been born about 1840 to 1845, and her fictional mother, Washakie's daughter, could have been 15 to 20 years old and born about 1820 to 1830. If Washakie was 15 to 30 years older than her he would have been born in 1790 to 1815, and in real life he was supposedly born sometime between 1798 and 1810.

I am also planning to have the protagonist meet fictional grandsons of the real Inkpaduta in 1876, and be forced by circumstances to be civil to them and get to know them a little.

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  • Your definition of fiction is mistaken. Fiction simply means that the story is not about "real people" who actually lived. It's about made-up people. Alternate universes usually appear in sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Historical fiction is a genre with its own rules, set in the real universe. – Sarah Bowman Mar 12 at 22:36

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