It’s really fascinating to listen to a couple of hardcore fans talk – especially if they’re not major fans of the same topics. For example, imagine a serious WWII history buff and a hardcore Tolkien fan having a conversation about movies and their accuracy or lack thereof. In the course of the exchange, both The Two Towers and The King’s Speech come up (dun dun dunnnn).
Let’s assume the history buff read The Two Towers a couple of decades ago, so he knows the movie isn’t exactly like it – but who cares? He loves the fight scenes and the graphics! At this, the hardcore Tolkien fan turns purple and explodes to explain exactly how inaccurate the movie of The Two Towers was and how it completely distorted the vision of the original book.
Then, the tables turn as The King’s Speech is brought to the table. The Tolkien fan had European history in high school, so he has a vague idea that Churchill’s opinions and actions were technically inaccurate. But, really, the movie isn’t really about the history. It’s about the story. Now, it’s the history buff’s turn to turn purple and rant about the historical inaccuracies in The King’s Speech (There are more rabid sites on that, but apparently they cannot be bothered to use paragraphs.).
As far as inaccuracies go, of course, they’re both right. Neither movie is accurate to the original book or the actual history (respectively). What’s particularly interesting to me from a writer’s point of view is the difference in how much they care.
It seems that, for the most part, people care about inaccuracies only if they care about the original. So if you’re writing historical fiction set in the Italian Renaissance, how much people care about the accuracy is likely to vary by how much they care about the history. A history major with a PhD in the Italian Renaissance is going to care about details that you’ve never even heard of. Certain types of re-enactors will be just as bad while others are liable to point out small oversights but mostly be offended only by major mistakes.
The average person on the street will only notice (or care about) glaring errors like the use of electric cars and cell phones. Or having it take place in Germany. Which obviously doesn’t make sense – and that’s the only reason they care. They don’t care about the time period. They don’t know enough about it to recognize most mistakes – as long as the story matches their vague impression of the period, they’re fine. All they care about is the story being entertaining and making sense within itself (see “Writing Requires Research“). That means that it’s the hardcore fans that you need to worry about most.
So what happens if you develop a serious fan base?
Say that people start buying your book series in droves, and you develop a sort of cult following. People who are hard-core fans of your work. How do you think they’re going to feel about continuity errors in your next novel? If you’re having trouble picturing it, go to a Q&A at a con with a really famous guest speaker. Or Google something like “Star Trek continuity errors.” People keep track of those things, and they like to call the author on them.
Remember: the more they care about the original, the more they care about accuracy. Talk about pressure! Anyone else moderately terrified at the thought?