Historical fiction transports readers on a journey into the past, taking them to a place real or fictitious. The nature of this genre enables the writer to create unique and imaginative plots that can exist alongside real places, events and people from the past.
What is Historical Fiction
Historical fiction is a literary genre where the story takes place in the past. The story is fictitious but must exist during a time period in the past. Historical fiction writers usually set their story in a real place during the past and use past events and historic people to build their story around. Good historical fiction writing requires a balance of both sound research of the time period and creativity to interweave the story with the period-specific details such as social conditions, dialogue, clothing and mannerisms.
Common Elements of Historical Fiction
- The Plot: The plot is usually shaped around a historical figure or events that occurred during the time period the story is set in. Real historical figures and fictional characters can coexist, and fictional places and events can be present in the narrative so long as they all make sense for that time period. For example, a novel set in Europe in the mid 14th century would be expected to reference the bubonic plague that occurred during that time period.
- The Setting: The setting is what lays the foundation for the plot of a historical fiction novel. It must take place during a real period in history. The location must also be authentic to that time period. For example, you can’t invent a new city that didn’t exist at that time. You can, however, incorporate fictional places that reflect the time period such as a fictional character’s house.
- Character: Characters can be based off real people in history and they can be imaginary. The important thing to note is if they are real, then their character has to be accurate. You can’t change facts such as their position in society, who their family was and so on. You can however use your creative license by having them interact with your fictional story. If the characters aren’t real, then their actions should be reflective of their time period
- Conflict: The problems the characters face should be ones similarly faced by people of that era. That being said the conflict can be entirely fictitious if other elements are factual, so long as it’s rooted in reality.
- Dialogue: The writer must balance the dialogue so that it is authentic to the era and the status of the characters yet still be comfortable for the reader to understand and not distract them from the story. For example, a story set in England during the middle ages does not need to be written in Old English, but it also shouldn’t have characters speak modern-day slang.
Best Historical Fiction Books
- Adam X by Nicholas Abdilla and Chris Stead
- Gentle George by Ken Mackenzie and Chris Stead
- All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak