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What is Historical Fiction?

There is a common misconception about the historical fiction genre. Most people don't even realise their mistake because the misconception is portrayed as truth so blatantly. And unfortunately for the writing industry, this misconception often leads an author to unknowingly deciding the course of their success or failure.

What is this misconception? It's rather simple, really.

This misconception regards "historical fiction" as either one of two descriptions:

  1. A regaling adventure tale set in medieval Europe, filled with quests and fair maidens, or:

  2. A boring account about a historical event or person, often set between the 1830s and 1940s.

Whichever description you recognise as historical fiction, they're both wrong. Technically, they would both describe a fictitious story based on historical truth, but they portray the wrong message.

Allow me to break each one down for you.

What is historical fiction and how can I use it?

Regaling Tales of Knights in Shining Armour

Swords clashed together and arrows whipped through the air as the battle raged on. The archers atop the castle ramparts continuously fired arrows at the enemy below, setting them alight to ensure extensive injury to the attackers.

"Hurry," Sir George commanded with urgency as he lead the princess up to the tallest tower in the castle. "You'll be safe here."

We can all remember a scene, book, or tale like this. It's a classic. Stories of knights, castles, battles, and more simply cannot escape our imagination. Sometimes, however, these tales fill our imagination that things get overcrowded. We merge fiction with fantasy or push out any historical fiction later than the medieval era, or often, both.

When this happens, we end up labelling fantasy fiction as historical fiction. Why?

So it's set in the medieval times, and therefore it's historical, right?


This is one of the biggest parts of the historical fiction misconception. Just because it's set in a historical time period, doesn't mean it is historical. And you can enjoy your medieval romances about Sir George and the princess as much as you like, but unless the story is directly linked to a historical event and/or person (preferably both), it's going to stay as either fiction or fantasy fiction.

What is historical fiction and how can I use it?

Mediocre Accounts of Historical Events or People in 1830-1940

If medieval adventures don't come to mind when you think of historical fiction, stories like this almost certainly will.

Stories such as The Secret Garden, or Little Women, or Pride and Prejudice probably pop up in your mind because they are set in a rather historically influential time period. A time period that, unsurprisingly, has multitudes of books, movies, and plays set in.

This is because the 1800s was the dawn of a new era: the Industrial Revolution. In the 19th Century, the technology of book publishing advanced significantly. World-renowned authors—Mark Twain, Charles Dickins, Jane Austen, and Lewis Carroll, to name a few—sprung up in the 1800s and created a new era of storytelling.

Filmmaking and movie producing also began in the 1800s, with the Lumière brothers debuting the world's first movie in December of 1895. The silent black-and-white comedy, Lumière's L'Arroseur arrosé ("Tables Turned on the Gardener") was the first fiction film to ever be produced.

It makes sense for one to believe that historical fiction is a term for this time in history—perfect for our historical fiction misconception.

What is not commonly known, however, is that stories such as The Secret Garden, Little Women, and Pride and Prejudice are actually not historical fiction!

All these stories are set within our 1830s–1940s frame, but so are the authors. This is important to note because the guidelines which classify historical fiction require your writing must be set at least 50 years before the current date.


So, if it's not about dragon-slaying knights or Victorian drama, what is historical fiction?

Historical fiction is a fiction story or plot set 50 years or more before the time it is written. It must be written as a novel and include historical events and figures. Elements such as fire-breathing dragons, talking bunnies, or other things which defy the Laws of Nature and Nature's God cannot be included. The writer must endeavour to write it as historically accurate as possible before adding fiction. And finally, historical fiction needs a LOT of research!

There are still many books, movies, and tales out there which are historical fiction—Hamilton, A Tale of Two Cities, and even Braveheart are classified as historical fiction!

Visit here to learn about my historical fiction novel and the upcoming sequel!


1 comentário

Lori Scharf
Lori Scharf
5 days ago

It's weird to think that people like Mark Twain and Jane Austen were really just writing what we'd all contemporary fiction in their own times... It's weird to think that one day our 'modern' contemporary fiction might be considered historical as well.


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