Story Beginnings: revisiting the past through Historical Fiction

Dreaming of writing a book, but aren't sure where to begin? Our Story Beginnings series explores the framework and key elements of writing genres and sub-genres, to help inspire you to craft a great story of your own.

Historical fiction is a genre set in a bygone era, ranging from the early 20th century all the way back to ancient historical periods. It relies on a real, historical place and time for its setting. Authors of historical fiction must have a strong sense of detail and historical accuracy. A good historical fiction writer can seamlessly meld historical figures and events with fictional ones so that it may seem impossible to tell what is real and what’s not. While this genre can overlap with other genres such as sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, and many others, it relies heavily on documented fact.

Historical fiction transports its reader to a specific moment in history, and introduces them to the way of life, level of technology, social expectations and cultural customs of the time through the telling of the tale. Often obstacles to the protagonist are based in the limitations or expectations of that time period. Through this lens, it can allow us to explore themes of human progress, prejudice (especially against ethnicity or gender), and religion.

The plot structures of historical fiction also commonly overlap with the genres of romance, mystery, thriller, and others. As this genre does not create its settings so much as explore existing historical settings, it can educate as well as entertain its readers. Many of the readers of this genre are enthusiasts (or experts) on their preferred time period, and so expect a level of accuracy and integrity to historical fiction associated with historians, theologians or anthropologists.

To write good historical fiction, an author must pick their time period, do their research, pay attention to the finer details, and retell interesting events or people through a dramatic lens. 

Key Features: High accuracy and attention to detail of technology/beliefs/cultural practices/language of the time; cameos of famous events/people/places; retelling of actual or fictional events set against an historical event or context; realistic portrayal of its setting.

Famous authors of historical fiction: Ken Follett, Philippa Gregory, Diana Gabaldon, Bernard Cornwell

Historical novels from FriesenPress:

Written by Astra Crompton, FriesenPress Author Account Manager
Edited by Kate Juniper, FriesenPress Editorial and Illustrations Coordinator