Historical Fiction are novels with an historical setting in which fictional characters and events take place. Although some narratives do center around real historical figures this might be why definitions vary. The Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works written at least fifty years after the events described, while critic Sarah Johnson has defined the genre as being set before the middle of the last century (20th century). Her definition is based on the author having written from research rather than personal experience. Another view by Lynda Adamson states that some people read novels written in the past i.e. Jane Austen as if they were historical novels.
What is your definition of an historical novel?
No matter which definition you agree with, historical fiction is a literary fiction where the plot takes place in a setting in the past. These major historic events mostly take an ‘off stage’ part, while the characters inhabit the world in which they take place. Used as an umbrella term it can also be applied to works in other narrative formats, such as performing or visual arts like theater, cinema, television, opera and in more recent times video games and graphic novels.
The essential part of an historical novel is that it pays attention to the manners and social conditions that the era depicted ensuring the readers can understand why the characters respond in the manner they within their environments. Unfortunately, not all novels are accurate in their details and this causes tension about the historical authenticity between readers and critics and even scholars.
Some sub-genres insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel such as alternative history of historical fantasy.
Other sub-genres include:
These novels incorporate not only historical characters and events but reports of everyday events found in 20th century newspapers.
A fictional biography of a historical figure.
Also known as historical whodunits, this sub-genre’s plot involves solving a mystery or crime with a setting in the distant past.
Historical romance and family sagas
Novels with a background detail set in a particular period, but that does not play a key role in the narrative. They can also contain more modern-day sensibilities, and more conventional characters in the novels would point out the heroine’s eccentricities, such as wanting to marry for love – not a true reflection of how the society worked at that time in most cases.
Alternative history and historical fantasy
Where the established history is changed with dramatic results or modern day characters return to the past and change it. And also narratives are loosely based on historical events but fantasy elements are added including sorcery and supernatural creatures.
Children’s historical fiction
This has become a prominent sub-genre resulting in narratives exploring other time periods via time travel or time portals transporting modern day characters. It allows children to learn and understand about different eras.
My medieval fantasy novella, The Rython Kingdom has elements of history through its characters but it is not historically correct in regards to the monarchy at that time.
Have you written historical fiction?
Was it strictly historically accurate or was it in one of the sub-genres?