Historical Fiction and The Girls of Gettysburg
By Bobbi Miller
Historical fiction is the coming together of two opposing elements: fact and fiction. The controversy is grounded in defining the ‘truth’ of history. Other popular genres have distinct rules that govern basic premises. Dystopian fiction, for example, features a futuristic universe in which the illusion of a perfect society is maintained through corporate, technologic, or totalitarian control. Using an exaggerate worse-case scenario, the dystopian story becomes a commentary about social norms and trends.
Historical fiction defies easy explanation and definition. For some, historical fiction is first and foremost fiction, and therefore anything goes. Others condemn the blending of invention with accepted facts. Yet, nothing about history is obvious, and facts are often open to interpretation. Once upon a time, it was considered factual that the world was flat, that blood-letting was the proper way of treating disease, that women were emotionally and physically incapable of rational thought. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but he didn’t discover America. Some would say he was less an explorer and more of a conqueror. History tends to be written by those who survived it. As such, no history is without its bias.
So when I tackled the battle of Gettysburg as the focus of my new novel, Girls of Gettysburg, I had to first get the facts right. This was a daunting task because no other battle has been studied so thoroughly. And then, there’s the emotional truth, the story behind the facts. Historical fiction makes the facts matter to the reader. If I didn’t get this right, creating characters true to their time and place, the readers won’t care about the facts. For me, the only way to discover this emotional truth was to walk the battlefield of Gettysburg, and witness that landscape where my characters lived over one hundred and fifty years ago.
In my travels across the fields and town of Gettysburg, I learned many facts about the battle. Many of my scenes are based on actual events, from the harrowing basement cave-in to the march across the bloody field. I even researched weather patterns to make sure I had the weather right. But of all the facts I researched, these were some of my favorite: