Don’t you just love the movie Gone with the Wind? The beautiful costumes, the intriguing heroine, the quotable lines…it’s a great work of fiction. And I wish that more people would take notice of those last three words: work of fiction. Gone with the Wind is a delightful movie, but not every detail in it is historically accurate.
If you write a novel set during one of Hollywood’s favorite historical periods (of which the Civil War is one), your young readers may come to it thinking that they know everything there is to know about that time. After all, they saw it in a movie, and Hollywood wouldn’t lie. As historical fiction writers, there isn’t much we can do about the way films portray history, but we can and should be aware of the notions our readers may have gotten from them.
If there are well-known films set during the same time period as your novel, watch them, whether they’re recent releases or classics. Sometimes you may be pleasantly surprised by how many historical details the filmmakers got right.
At others you may find a major misconception you’d like to clear up. (I personally am grateful to the authors whose books showed me that not all Southerners owned plantations with hundreds of slaves.) But either way, you’ll know what impressions your readers may have of your time period.
Do you agree that kids’ impressions of history can often come from movies?
Do you think most films are fairly accurate in how they portray history, or do they often get the details wrong?
Melissa Luttmann is the YA Editorial Assistant for Wonders and Marvels. You can read more about her here: Editorial Staff.