Defining Historical Fiction,
By Donna Schlachter
One of the most popular genres in fiction writing continues to be historical, which spans, of course, all of history. Each period has its own sub-genres, along with its own set of reader expectations. Although there is general agreement on what constitutes a particular sub-genre, sometimes a publisher will be the deciding factor. For example, books set after World War 2 were rarely classified as historical until recent years. Now many publishers label books set up to and including the end of the Vietnam War as historical.
As with any other genre of fiction writing, knowing what genre and sub-genre your book fits into is important. First of all, acquisitions editors want to know because they need to be able to “sell” it to their publishing board. Unless the publisher is one of the big five or six, most will not publish multiple authors in the same genre in the same year. Secondly, book stores need to know where to file the book on their shelves. Also, online retailers will need to know what keywords to include in their descriptions for online buyers.
And all of this filters down to the reader: while a reader may read more than one genre, when they pick up a book, they want to know when and where that story is set. If they didn’t get at least the time period from the genre description, they may not pick up the book. And some readers stick exclusively to historic fiction, some even to the point of reading only Biblical fiction, Tudor, Regency, Victorian, Colonial, Western, World War 1, World War 2, or the more modern historicals set between 1950 and 1970.
Another quirk in the equation is that as the years go by, the definition for historical will change. In ten years, historical might include the Central American drug wars and the Miami drug wars of the 1980s.
A recent question that has arisen is, does the genre include only books written long after the event takes place, or do books written in that period now become historical because of the passage of time. For example, The Great Gatsby was written within just a few years of when the events happened, but now that is more than 90 years ago. We might consider that historical, but is it truly? Perhaps historical fiction can only be appreciated when written from a point of view where the author has the benefit of all that happened after the event.
The only thing we can count on about historical fiction is that while the history doesn’t change, the definition of what constitutes the genre will.
♦ Question: What is your favorite genre, and why?
Donna Schlachter writes historical suspense from Denver, Colorado, while her alter ego, Leeann Betts, pens contemporary mystery and suspense. When they aren’t writing about murder, you can find them at www.HiStoryThruTheAges.wordpress.com or www.AllBettsAreOff.wordpress.com Donna and Leeann’s recent writing book, Nuggets of Writing Gold, released this month on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com. Donna has a collection of short stories, Second Chances and Second Cups on Amazon.com and Smashwords.com, and Leeann’s debut novel, No Accounting for Murder and a devotional for accountants just like her main character, Counting the Days, are also available in digital format. Friend them on Facebook: