History, How to Write Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction and its Sub-genres (Part I)

By far historical fiction is my favorite genre. I always reach for it, whether it be an epic western, a historical mystery, or a dramatic medieval story. Historical fiction comes in many different subgenres, a few of which I will expand upon here.

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  1. Historical Romance
  2. The Historical Novel
  3. Historical Mystery
  4. Time Travel
  5. Alternative History

 

Historical Romance is one of my favorite genres although it does receive a lot of criticism for being mere “fluff.” For a work to be historical romance, the main theme of the story must follow a romance between the protagonist and another main character while being set within a historical setting.  The most popular themes I have seen within historical romance are Regency romances, Scottish romances, Antebellum/post-Civil War romances, time travel romances, and mail-order-bride romances. Less popular are Victorian romances, 20th-century romances, western romances, medieval romances, and ancient romances. Many historical romances are very euro and western-centric. The historical accuracy in these works is often decided by the author. Many reflect only the accuracy of a historical costume party, while others are painstakingly researched. Most importantly, however, is the romance, which to be a romance almost always must end with a happily ever after. Without the romance, the story would fall apart, even if there are subplots filled with mystery, suspense, or some other catalyst/plot factor.

 

Some of my favorite authors within the genre:

 

Lisa Kleypas

Sherry Thomas

Lauren Willig

Annette Blair

Courtney Milan

Jennifer Blake

Grace Burrowes

Georgette Heyer

Etc.

 

The Historical novel often follows the lives of real historical figures or historical events. As the elegant Granddaddy of all historical fiction, authors of this genre spend years, sometimes decades, researching for “perfect” historical accuracy.  A romance in the work does not need to end in happily ever after, in many cases, these works end tragically. These are the novels your grandparent will compliment you for reading.

 

Some of my favorite authors within the genre:

Philippa Gregory

Sarah Waters

Hilary Mantel

Michel Faber

 

Historical Mystery the lovely genre in which I write. Historical mystery dances between the historical novel and the historical romance when it comes to historical accuracy. Many historical mysteries follow events from their time periods, spies in the American revolution, secret societies in the Catholic church, and 20th-century noir detectives, etc. The most popular historical mystery is often set in the Victorian era (1837-1901) because the first mystery came from this era. Many might first think of Sherlock Holmes, but the first was actually Moonstone by Willkie Collins. I dare you to read through a Victorian novel before Moonstone’s publication and you’ll see Victorians were notoriously poor at creating mystery. Within mystery itself, there are many subgenres, but I’ll get to that in a later post.  Almost all mysteries revolve around a murder, so if this is your genre of choice the body should show up somewhere in the first thirty pages, if not sooner.

Some of my favorite authors within the genre:

Anne Perry (the Queen)

Y.S. Lee

Fiona Buckley

Deanna Raybourn

Tasha Alexander

Philip Pullman

C.S. Harris

Victoria Thompson

 

Time travel historical fiction is not my favorite, but it is particularly popular right now, especially with the revival of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series through Starz network. Often times, historical romance and time travel go hand in hand. My aunt attended an RWA conference, way back when, where Ms. Gabaldon presented. She and the audience became mighty offended when Ms. Gabaldon said her work was not a romance as if it were an offensive genre. *This personal anecdote may or may not be accurate* Authors and audiences should not ashamed of the historical romance genre, it is not purely smut. Disney runs on the idea of true love and romance. It’s ingrained in our culture at this point. I won’t make a judgement if Outlander is purely a historical romance, but I will say as a fan that without the romance there might not be a story. As I said before the genre of the historical fiction does not always reflect its historical accuracy, it all depends on the author. However, the historical novel is always accurate. Time travel often follows a character, often a contemporary character, who is thrust back into a foreign time period. The historical aspect comes from this new time the character finds themselves in. As time travel is a form of suspending belief, you can often be more loose with historical accuracy.

Some of my favorite authors within the genre:

Diana Gabaldon

Lauren Willig

Sarah Woodbury

 

Last, but not least, the Alternative Historical fiction novel. This genre can often tie in with time travel. Sometimes a character travels back into time only to change history. Sometimes a story is told from a “what if?” perspective. What if the South won the Civil War? What if King Henry VIII didn’t divorce Catherine of Aragon? What if Queen Victoria was assassinated? This is a genre I am not very familiar with, but would like to read. I have no recommendations, but if you do please comment below.

In the future, I will add more subgenres to this list on another post. Such as, paranormal historical fiction, ancient historical fiction, religious historical fiction, etc.

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