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Historical Fiction Has It All

When someone mentions Historical Fiction to a reader, their first reaction is often, “That boring stuff isn’t for me.”

It has slipped from it’s light grip on popularity steadily over the last few decades, while the Mystery/Thriller/ Suspense and Romance categories’ popularity exploded.

Good news! Historical Fiction sales are now on the rise. And why not? Historical Fiction has it all.

How is that possible, you say? I’ll begin at the beginning.

Writing Historical Fiction

The expression ‘Historical Fiction’ sounds as though it’s a contradiction in terms. History is a factual account of the past and Fiction is a story created from a writer’s imagination. So this genre is a blend of the two. It may seem as though writing about an authentic time period, place or person would limit your creativity in such a story.

“Just the facts, Ma’am.” said Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday. Well that’s just not the case.

 

A writer chooses a time period that grabs at their attention. There may be specific historical events or an historical figure within that time period that intrigues the writer. The writer may also have a penchant for mystery or romance, and that will become part of the story as well. No writer ever chooses historical fiction because they think it’s easy to write.

The creative mind will peruse the landscape of the chosen location and will imagine it more dreary or more beautiful; war torn or blessed with bright sun and verdant hills. Delve into the factual background of a person of history and then embellish his life with fictional characters or events. Or choose an event like the Crusades, a world war or famine to provide your characters with endless scenarios. These are the artistic playthings of an historical fiction writer.

Authentic people, places and time periods should remain true to history, but that leaves much room for your imagination to play – creating a fictional event in the life of an authentic person of history or creating a fictional character embroiled in a true historical conflict.

For example, Christine Blevins’ The Turning of Anne Merrick, just out this month and on my TBR list, is “a tale of love and espionage”. A young woman deeply involved in the Revolutionary War finds love with a man who shares her Patriot cause. In this book, the battles and military figures are authentic. Anne Merrick, her love interest and their story is fictional.

Imagine this…a story in the voice of Joan of Arc’s dearest childhood friend, Thomas, who is with her when Joan sees the visions of saints in her father’s field and knows Joan’s destiny. Maybe at 16, Thomas and Joan fall in love before she goes off to ride with the French army.  Does Thomas follow her into battle? Does he stay behind and not see her again until the day she’s to be burned at the stake? Does he try to save her or is he prevented from getting too close? Creating a fictional character like Thomas in the life of an actual person of history is one way to write historical fiction.

The writer will choose to what extent the place and time period impact the story or whether those elements are the focus of the story. If the setting and time period act only as a backdrop to the characters, slightly less research may be needed than a story such as Blevin’s where the setting and time period are a major force.

However deeply a writer delves into historical research, it’s important to remember that having a 1920s burlesque dancer receive a call on her cell phone just wouldn’t fit. Manner of speech, dress, work, and personal behaviors need to be authentic for the time period, so as not to take the reader out of the story when she realizes you haven’t done your homework.

 

Historical Fiction brings the particular time period to life for the reader, (unlike the boring history books we read in high school-memorizing dates of wars and names of military officers,) and leaves the reader feeling as if she learned something about that person or era while she was falling in love with the characters.

Sub Genres

Like most other genres of fiction, historical fiction is a versatile medium. The sub genres include:

  • Middle Ages
  • Regency
  • Early humans and prehistoric
  • Ancient Rome
  • Nautical history
  • Chinese history
  • Historical realism, fantasy, mystery, thriller, crime, science fiction, romance, paranormal
  • Alternate or speculative history
  • Young Adult historical fiction
  • Christian Historical fiction
  • Military Historical fiction
  • America West historical fiction

There is almost always overlap in categorizing historical writing. For example, the Regency era novels, most often set in England, will include romance, mystery or military elements. The World War II era novels, usually set in Europe or America, will often carry a romantic or a military theme.

With thousands of years of history and as many authentic people and events from which to choose, the writer is limited only by her imagination in creating an entertaining journey back in time. Historical Fiction has it all!

Have you written Historical Fiction? What did you love about it? If you haven’t tried it, what’s holding you back?

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Discussion

  1. Kitt Crescendo  July 22, 2013

    It’s funny, I always felt my grasp of history (and my love of it) started with historical fiction. It wasn’t until my 30′s that my interests shifted to the more contemporary romances. I still love historical fictions, especially in the romance genre.

    (reply)
    • Marcia Richards  July 22, 2013

      Hi Kitt – I’m with you on enjoying certain types or periods of historicals. I’m especially fond of WWII fiction and some non-fiction.

      (reply)
  2. David N Walker  July 22, 2013

    Thanks for highlighting historical fiction, Marcia. When you add that to the post on strong women, you have my novella series, Fancy.
    David N Walker recently posted..Strong WomenMy Profile

    (reply)
    • Marcia Richards  July 22, 2013

      Your novel is still on my TBR pile, David. Looking forward to reading it!

      (reply)
  3. Patricia Sands  July 22, 2013

    I love to read historical fiction. At the recent RWA in Atlanta, mention was made several times that this genre is on the rise again, Marcia, so your facts are valid. Reading this genre is a wonderful way to stay connected with historical facts and be entertained at the same time.
    Patricia Sands recently posted..Sheryl Browne’s new release!My Profile

    (reply)
    • Marcia Richards  July 22, 2013

      I agree, Patricia. I love historicals in the more recent history, like Civil War era and forward. The research always fascinates me.

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  4. Jess Witkins  July 22, 2013

    Oooh I’m glad sales are back on the rise for historical fiction. I love these books. I have so much admiration for the authors who write them because their research is impeccable! Some of my favorites are Pope Joan, Water for Elephants, The Doctor’s Lady (introduced to me by YOU!), and The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

    Way to stand up for your genre!
    Jess Witkins recently posted..What to Watch on Date Night?My Profile

    (reply)
    • Marcia Richards  July 22, 2013

      Yes, me too,Jess! Love all those books! I have an autographed copy of Pope Joan. The author was a customer of my late husband’s restaurant. Boy, did I get lucky!

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  5. Mary Mary  July 21, 2013

    I just want to say thank you for highlighting the writing of Historical Fiction. This is the genre I write and I love it, hurdles and all. I hope you’re right in saying that Historical Fiction is having a comeback, and I hope in a big way! I was recently picked up by an agent and one of the first things she said to me was that a) Historical Fiction is incredibly hard to write without making it sound like a history book, and b) I did a great job of creating a realistic story with my time period. I do believe that if you write this genre you better love research and you better be ready to do your homework. That and putting a great story to history is what makes it fun to write!
    Mary Mary recently posted..Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, Right?My Profile

    (reply)
    • Marcia Richards  July 22, 2013

      Mary, thank you for coming by! In a few stories I’m working on, I write about the 20th century, which I think probably requires less research than going further back in time. I admire historical fiction writers because I know it is no easy task. Writing fiction, period, is tough. Going back to a time you may unfamiliar with is tougher. There are so many authors who are doing a great job with it and I’m sure you will, as well. Thanks for commenting!

      (reply)

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