Historical Fiction Genre Definition
Brief definition of the Historical
It could be said the general purpose of the genre is to bring
"history to life" by fictionalizing the past and reflecting
a specific time period; sometimes done by reconstructing characters,
events, movements, ways of life, and the spirit of a bygone
I suppose the most obvious thing is that any historical fiction
piece will have to encompass history. Usually the time period
- and its depiction - is at the core of the story. As well as
telling the stories of everyday people's lives, historical fiction
may involve major political or social events of the time and
the individual’s role in shaping them.
Although an exact definition is sometimes debated, historical
fiction is a genre most often determined by setting and the
inclusion of authentic historical events and characters in a
fictional story. Let’s face it, a well-researched novel
can reveal so much of history – and in a far more agreeable
form than the average history text book. As a genre it can not
only provide us with a lens upon our collective past but also
upon a "here and now" that defines our unique lives.
Authors and Historical Fiction
The author of historical fiction must blend historical facts
with imagination and creative style to master his art. They
must also be a master of the past so as to portray accurately
ideas, attitudes, tendencies, and themes and interlace his story—accurate
in all its details—into the thematic materials.
It is no easy task, then, for an author to undertake the writing
this challenging and tricky genre. Any writer who tells a story
set in the past must traverse the fine line between history
and fiction, between readers contemporary sensibilities and
In this particular genre, the plot is drawn from the writer's
imagination but is true to life in some period of the past.
The setting is always usually the most important literary ingredient.
Because the author is writing about a particular time in history,
the information about the time period must be accurate, authentic,
or both. To create accurate and authentic settings in their
books, authors must research the time period thoroughly. They
must know how people lived, what they ate, what kinds of homes
they had, and what artifacts were a common part of their lives.
This must be used with caution though, if the aim of the novel
becomes primarily a vehicle for delivering facts about the past,
the story is likely to become over-involved in detail and compromise
its artistic honesty and its appeal. An Author must be wary
of getting so lost among their research that they forgo working
on the story. Story should always come first.
Historians and novelists can often differ in their points of
view about the historical novel especially about whether the
writer of historical fiction must not distort past reality or
even if the writer must not manipulate historical facts to make
the novel more interesting or exciting.
Sometimes it is common practice for authors to present actual
historical figures alongside fictitious characters. Some historical
fiction includes historical persons who intermingle with the
central character in some way, but novels need not include such
characters to qualify for the genre.
Historical fiction may overlap other genres, for example historical
realism, historical fantasy, historical tall tales, and historical
From the bookseller’s point of view, the only point of
genre is to help people find books they’re likely to buy.
People who read this literature tend to behave just as other
genre fans do, they go in looking for more of what they like,
and they find it easier if the kind of thing they like is all
shelved together under the rough definition of historical fiction.
Historical fiction may be a domestic novel, a psychological
novel, etc. It not only covers a range from Booker-winning literature
commercialism, but it may overlap other genres, for example
historical realism, historical romance, historical crime, historical
mysteries, historical science fiction, historical tall tales
and historical fantasy etc.
Sub Genres can also include the following:
The Middle Ages
The American West and Western Novels
Early Humans and Prehistoric Novels
Historical, Regency and Other Romance Novels
The Ancient Rome
History and historical fiction.
It can be argued that the most important difference between
history and historical fiction is that a work of history must
be written from a point of view that represents the actual author's.
The author's voice tells the reader what happened and why it
In historical fiction, the writer may tell the story from the
point of view of real or imaginary characters, thus appealing
to the reader's imagination. Settings also may be real or made-up.
The plot events may be accepted historical events or they may
be fictional. If they are fictional, it means that the author
created the events for the telling of the story. The imaginary
characters, settings, and plot events must be portrayed authentically
as if they actually could have happened.
One interesting thought is just how "past" is "past."
This remains open to question. Books that are set in the Dark
Ages, or the Civil War, can be labelled "historical"
without many problems. However, do books that are set in 1966
qualify as "historical" for today's readers?
Historical fiction is riding a crest of popularity, so much
so that publishers are now promoting not only individual historical
novels but entire series of historical fiction. Also the fact
that writers continue to work in this genre, successfully engaging
with the issues that define it, testifies to its value and viability.
Historical novels can enable readers to experience the past
vividly and to engage in historical drama. These experiences
can stir up personal feelings of happiness, joy, pain, suffering,
and despair as the reader enters the world of the characters
and shares emotions felt by these characters.
A Historical novel is usually successful because of an author’s
extensive historical research and knowledge of the time period
and their skillful blending of history and fiction into a credible
story. It is usually a successful novel because it not only
includes drama, conflict, and lifelike characters in the story,
but can also exemplify those basic human needs of love, respect,
freedom, security. These needs are as important today as they
were in centuries past. People have, for the most part, always
acted the same. They strive for riches and love, among other
things. Reading these novels, we are reminded again and again
that the issues of the past are inscribed on our own lives that
yesterday continue to impinge upon today.
And finally, in my humble opinion, I would say that the most
important thing about this significant genre is this: Historical
Fiction invites us all to think about the past as yesterday
continues to impinge upon today.