Historical fiction defined   

Historical fiction is defined as a story narrative about a time and place that dates back at least 50 years. Stories are set in a real place during a culturally recognizable time. Details and action in the plots are a combination of actual events and stories from the author’s imagination. Characters are either fictional or based on real people from the given era of time. Research is the basis for historical fiction.

historical fiction old millA historical novel could be about the people who were the owners of this historic old mill.

Reading history provides a way to understand what occurred during past events. Reading historical fiction provides an emotional appeal. There is more to history than knowing the facts. We are all looking for some sense and meaning behind those events. The historical novelist presents the inner lives of people across time and place to anyone reading the novel. History’s untold stories are exposed. 

As Hilary Mantel said it best, “Historical fiction comes out of greed for experience. Violent curiosity drives us on, takes us far from our time, far from our shore, and often beyond our compass.”

A historical novel tells a story through characters. This is what makes a historical novel different from a history book that presents the facts of the past. What do characters in a historical novel think about and what are their emotions as they go through historic events? 

Historical fiction revolves around what is real and what is imagined. The novelist creates authentic reality for the reader. The writer should understand the concrete world in which the novel’s characters live and interact. The historical author is able to create true-to-life scenes and dialogues. What the characters think, feel and say is imagined. Whatever these characters interact with such as a tool, a vehicle or food and drink should be as close as possible to the real thing of that time period and in that place.

Reading historical fiction

You can use a mobile phone to find which historical fiction books or short stories you would like to read. The mobile phone can help you search for historical fiction online. 

There are many subgenres of historical fiction. These include traditional historical fiction, historical romantic fiction, historical western fiction and multi-period epics, series and sagas. Mysteries, thrillers and adventure novels can also be categorized into historical fiction. Time-travel, alternate histories, fantasy, literary and Christian novels can also be historical. The appeal of reading about the past is always there. Inventive writers find new generations of readers who are inspired by past historical events.

Historical fiction office setting.This old office could serve as the setting for a historical novel.

Historical fiction consists of seven elements. These are character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict and world building.

Real or imagined characters fit into the era they are living in. This means discovering the norms, beliefs, attitudes and expectations of their time and station in life. 

Dialogue should fit the vocabulary and grammatical structure of the given time period of the historical novel. This means that the historical fiction author will insert selected words and phrases used by the time period the author is writing about. The reader will know that they are reading about a different time period in the past. 

The setting is the time and place. Readers cite this as the primary reason for reading historical fiction. Most themes transcend history, yet they still mut be interpreted within the context of a novel’s time period. The plot should make sense for the time period and will often revolve around the historical events taking place at that time.

The problems that the characters encounter in the story contribute to the conflict. As with theme and plot, conflict should be realistic for the selected time and place. Readers want to understand the reasons for the story conflict.

Historical novelists build a world for their readers. The customs, social arrangements, family environment, governments, religious structures, international alliances, military actions, physical geography, layouts of towns and cities and the politics of the time are relevant.

historical fiction old mill stepsYou can use your imagination when reading about these old mill steps.

Writing historical fiction

Historical fiction author, Bernard Cornwell, offers some advice when writing historical fiction. “The most important thing, the all-important thing, is to get the story right. Write, rewrite, rewrite again and do not worry about anything except story. It is story, story, story. That is your business. Your job is not to educate readers on the finer points of Elizabethan diplomacy or Napoleonic warfare, your job is to divert and amuse people who have had a hard day at work. What will get you published? Not style, not research, but story. Once the story is right, everything else will follow.”

There are four different approaches to take when developing your story concept. First, you can tell a fictionalized (but accurate) version of a true story. Second, would be to tell a story that draws on gaps in the historical record, subtext and rumors in a way that a historian couldn’t. The third approach is to use real events as the backdrop for your mostly fictional story. You can use a true story as the inspiration for your fictional story in the final approach.

You can conduct research using both primary and secondary sources to discover more about your historical period, the key events and figures that might play a role in your story. Primary sources are first-hand accounts of the period for your historical fiction. Secondary sources are sources written after your chosen period. These secondary sources will describe and analyze the period you have chosen to write about for your historical version. 

historical fiction model of an old millThis model of an old mill is an example of a primary source that you can use when doing research for historical fiction.

Your readers will expect you to accurately depict the details of every-day life as well as the broader political backdrop of your period. Readers will have expectations regarding your treatment of historical events and real figures of history. Most will tolerate a little creative license as long as it is justified in your historical note. You should strive for accuracy and authenticity in your work of historical fiction.

Structure is the foundation of fiction writing. Structure choices include plot, narrative, viewpoint and tense. After you’ve selected your structure, then it’s time to begin building your plot. Plots revolve around a story question, conflict and stakes. Stakes are the consequences of success or failure in your story. They determine whether or not your protagonist achieves his or her goal in the story.

There are three considerations when developing your story characters. First, your characters should have achievable goals and are motivated to achieve those goals. Second, internal conflicts give your story its emotional power. Third, your characters should evolve and grow over the course of your story. If they don’t, your characters will be too rigid and predictable. Or it will seem as if the story hasn’t had enough of an impact on their lives.

Outlining your story or novel will help you plan out the course of your historical work of fiction. Once you have a clear plan and your research is enough to create a rich, historically authentic setting, then it’s time to begin writing. Once your first draft is complete, the next step would be to revise it. 

The final step is to edit everything. A professional editor can help you take your manuscript to the next level by looking for weaknesses and building upon the strengths of the manuscript. If you can afford to hire a professional editor, the editor can help you finalize the very best version of it before submitting it to agents or self-publishing the historical fiction.

A Dream Fulfilled is an example of a historical short story for kids during World War II.

Here are some historical fiction books your children might be interested in reading.

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