History can be ambiguous. Sometimes there are multiple versions of the same event, and sometimes the details we most want to know have been lost. Fortunately, as a historical fiction writer, you can use this ambiguity to your advantage. As long as your book is labeled fiction, young readers will understand that it isn’t completely true, and you can fill in the gaps with your own interpretations of events.
For example, consider the two young English princes, Edward and Richard, who were imprisoned in the Tower of London in the late 15th century. In 1483, they disappeared, and no one has ever been able to say conclusively what happened to them. If you write a novel about these two boys, you might decide to say that they were murdered, or you might devise a way for them to escape. As long as the events you describe are plausible based on what we do know, no one can say that you’re wrong.
These types of situations are also good examples of places where an author’s note can come in handy, especially when you’re writing for young readers. While kids are smart enough to realize that historical fiction has at least some parts that came from the author’s imagination, they may not be clear on which parts—so tell them. This way, they won’t get a false impression of history.
What do you think about filling in the gaps in history? What’s the best way to do it? Is there a point where it becomes too much? And what are some books that do this well?
Melissa L. is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.