Wednesday, July 7, 2010

AUTHOR ENDNOTES: How Revealing Should They Be?

I just finished Margaret Haddix Petersen’s compelling book, UPRISING which tells the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911. Petersen skillfully wove fictional characters and events with researched facts to tell a compelling and important piece of US history!

Then, in her author note, she surprised me by writing the following:

"Personally, when I’ve just read a historical novel that seemed completely real to me—as I hoped this book seemed completely real to you—I hate to then read an author’s note explaining, “Well, this was real, but this wasn’t; this event didn’t actually occur, but it could have; this character I completely made up.” Because then the story recedes back into distant history, and what seemed so alive and immediate and tangible is gone. (Margaret Petersen Haddix)

Haddix chooses not to reveal which parts of Uprising were real.  And now she's made me curious about how readers feel about this topic. Personally, I love author endnotes and I want to know the sort of info that Haddix doesn't. I don't think it changes the story for me. How about you?

1. When you read historical fiction, do you want to know which characters were real and which weren’t?

2. If you discover that a character was fictionalized or that the author rounded out some missing parts of the story with some imagined scenario, does the story lose some of its power over you?

3. What are the advantages and disadvantage of the reader knowing which parts really happened and which could have happened.

4. What kinds of info do you like to see in an Author’s Note?


  1. Good questions. Yesterday Lisa was reading a story about the Czech republic in WWI and she asked Creighton what was true and what wasn't. (out of Zion Chronicles, book 3- another book to read!) SHe was delighted to find out that parts were true. I agree. I like reading a novel and discovering a "real" persona and I like hearing about it in the endnotes (like how you did in Comfort.) I assume that characters won't be real, but am glad to find out which events and people were.

  2. I think it's interesing to know if a character or certain events are real.History is made up of real people, and real events. Although we may fictionalize these things, I think knowing that certain character or events are real simply helps make the story feel more authentic.

    I can't see it changing the way I feel about a story I enjoyed reading. Like Carol, I usually assume that characters are not real unless I am reading about a character I might already be familiar with.

    Good post!

  3. Hmmmm! I guess my comment came up as anonymous.


  4. I'm with you, Carol and Laura - I love discovering that characters are real and I assume they are fictional unless told otherwise.

    Reading the endnote is like an extension of the story.

  5. Reading the end notes is, to me, like a great big gob of chocolate in the bottom of a moose tracks ice cream container. Simply put, love em'!

    1. Absolutely

    2. No, doesn't lose power.

    3. I think its being fair to history to point out which parts are true and the parts that could have been true.

    We can a) believe you're a great author with an incredible imagination to craft the entire story b) believe history was much more fascinating due to your added but unclaimed insertions.

    4. As much as they'll give (minus the boring details)

    Great questions!

  6. I love the author's notes, because I want to know why the author was drawn to this subject and how she did the research, where she went, who she interviewed--the whole research process. I read a book recently where I didn't think one character was particularly working well. Turns out the character was based on someone real. Useful info! I would never think that knowing what was real and what wasn't would detract from the book's power, but then I'm a huge fan of nonfiction and often the truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

  7. As a former, long-time librarian who worked with young children at a variety of schools as we moved around during my career, I feel that endnotes are essential in good children's books. It would be nice if kids had librarians and teachers sharing what they read but, sadly, that can't always be the case. I think we writers of historical fiction are obligated to, at the very least, direct young readers to places they can explore what they have read, expand it and learn more.

  8. Amy, thanks for taking the time to answer each question! "A great big gob of chocolate" Yum!

    Barbara and Augusta, great to hear what you are thinking. The consensus seems to be for author notes. Between my two blogs everyone has said they like reading them, they want to know, and apparently no one feels it detracts from the power of the story.

    Granted this was not a scientific poll...

  9. Wow! What a great post! As a writer of historical fiction, I've been wrestling with this question as well. And as a reader, I think my inclinations are a little bit different. After all, I'm wickedly curious, especially when it comes to history. But as a writer, there is a minor pull to maintain the magic. Ignore the little woman behind the curtain, folks...

    Weaving in the paranormal elements, my books are far more loosely based on real events than some. However, as a reader I think it might be fascinating to know what parts if this bizarre world are based on true events. Some of the most "far out" events in my first book are rooted in fact, which makes it all the more compelling. To think that a certain outlandish event could really happen... FUN!

    As a reader, I also like to know who is real or based on a real person. It makes the experience that much richer for me and more authentic as well.

    As a writer, I'm still working on those author's notes. We'll see what comes out...

  10. Mary Ann, I can't wait to read your paranormal historical. (and I don't usually gravitate toward paranormal but I am eager to see what YOU've been up to!) I would definitely want to know which weird occurences were actually real. Good luck and wisdom to you in writing your author note.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective both as reader and writer!