Genre Basics - Historical Fiction - article

Historical fiction novels are embedded in the past. The genre takes a fictional story and sets it in a true historical setting. The amount of blending, or real history and fictional invention, can vary, but typically there are fictional protagonists and characters, with historical characters moving around them. Historical fiction manuscripts usually run from 65-85K words. This genre is interesting because it equally appeals to men and women. Historical fiction novels tend to be well-researched books, because they are bound by maintaining a certain level of accuracy in their portrayals of a particular historical period. If the book strays too far from an accurate historical portrayal, or if everything is completely fabricated, it falls out of the historical fiction genre and finds itself categorized as something else.

The historical fiction genre is one of the most variegated genres because of its most basic requirements. There are young adult historical fiction novels that appeal more to teens, such as Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Women’s historical fiction novels appeal more to women than men, such as the novels of Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) and Philippa Gregory (The Other Boleyn Girl), and have more female protagonists. Really, any genre can exist as a sub-genre in historical fiction. 

Perhaps one of the most successful historical fiction novelists is Ken Follett, whose Pillars of the Earth placed fictional characters in a make-believe medieval English village. This is an example of a more traditional historical fiction novel. With Fall of Giants, however, Follett’s principal characters are not real, but they exist in a real – and extremely well documented – historical period. Follett’s novels represent some of the best historical fiction out there, because they are extremely well researched, the characters are appropriate for their time period, and the historical figures in the novels (even though they don’t usually enter directly into the narrative) are present in a believable capacity. That is, they theoretically could have been there at that particular moment.

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