Hi, Jo here, asking -- and giving -- opinions on real people in fiction.
When I thought about this I decided it was interesting how much historical fiction does without real people, but those books would mostly be the romances. That's not to lessen romance, but the stories are usually intimate and often domestic, so it's possible to not even mention the current monarch or prime minister. Historical novels often use real people as protagonists, though there is mid ground. Are Dorothy Dunnett's historical works historical novels when the principal characters are fictional? I'd say yes, but I've heard the debate.
What do you think? What other works of historical fiction use imaginary protagonists other than as an observer/storyteller when the novel is about the real person?
Do you have a preference?
My guideline would be to compare the historical romance with contemporary. When reading a contemporary romance, thriller, or women's fiction book, how often is any prime minister or president mentioned? If other notables are mentioned, it's often as a side reference. Real people rarely appear. Of course there are legal traps awaiting any such mention, whereas a tart comment about Casanova or Nelson is unlikely to get the historical author sued.
However, I do often end up bringing real people into my romances, generally in very minor ways, just because they're there in my imaginary world. This can lead to awkward touches, however. For example, in A Shocking Delight (out in April) the hero, David, is the new Earl of Wyvern and an upstart. I knew he'd need to be formally introduced to Devon society by the Lord Lieutenant of the county. It's only a mention but it's important to his discomfort with his situation.
I looked up the Lord Lt of Devon in 1817 and used his title, Lord Fortescue, but my editor felt that the title made it seem he'd be a character in the book, which he isn't. Therefore I simply referred to him as the Lord Lieutenant, which was okay by me, but it intrigued me. I think the problem was because he's a new name to the reader which builds expectations.
I couldn't find a picture of him, which is a bit odd, but this is his brother, who succeeded him. As I think it's a rather nice portrayal of a Regency gent, I thought I'd include it.
I mention that David will also have to be presented to the Regent. That's no problem because the Regent is a known entity. If true, which it wasn't, I could have said that David was going to dine with Wellington without raising reader expectations. But dinner with Lord Fortescue might lead the reader to expect more of him.
Have you ever been frustrated by the mention of real people without enough detail?
Do you prefer your romances without real people at all?
Who's the most unusual and intriguing real person you've met in a historical romance?
Perhaps this is on my mind because of the book I'm working on now. It's triggered by a real event, but I'm coming to think I can't use the real key players because it would be too tangled and not fit the timeline of my story. The readers would expect a closure that doesn't happen for some years. So I'm going to have to blend without offending the truth.
Wish me luck!
Say something interesting on this musing post and I'll enter your name for a copy of The Dragon's Bride, the precursor to A Shocking Delight.