Historical Fiction as a Literary Genre

Definition – Examples – How to Write

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. Last week, we started learning about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. We went over a definition for Crime, and we talked about some examples and how to write it. This week, I want to dive deeper into the next of those subgenres, that of Historical Fiction. Let’s get started.

Historical Fiction Definition

The historical fiction definition in literature is a story that blends true historical facts with fictional characters and events. This definition is almost too broad in its scope because the historical fiction genre can be nearly anything based in history. 

Examples

There are so many examples for Historical Fiction, and this is a genre that I particularly enjoy reading. Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

  • Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Scottish Highlands, 1945. Claire Randall, a former British combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding clans in the year of Our Lord . . . 1743.

Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of a world that threatens her life, and may shatter her heart. Marooned amid danger, passion, and violence, Claire learns her only chance of safety lies in Jamie Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior. What begins in compulsion becomes urgent need, and Claire finds herself torn between two very different men, in two irreconcilable lives.

  • Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico blends poignant romance, bittersweet wit, and delicious recipes.

This classic love story takes place on the De la Garza ranch, as the tyrannical owner, Mama Elena, chops onions at the kitchen table in her final days of pregnancy. While still in her mother’s womb, her daughter to be weeps so violently she causes an early labor, and little Tita slips out amid the spices and fixings for noodle soup. This early encounter with food soon becomes a way of life, and Tita grows up to be a master chef, using cooking to express herself and sharing recipes with readers along the way.

  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

  • The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Written in the eleventh century, this exquisite portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. Genji, the Shining Prince, is the son of an emperor. He is a passionate character whose tempestuous nature, family circumstances, love affairs, alliances, and shifting political fortunes form the core of this magnificent epic. 

How to Write Historical Fiction as a Literary Genre

You’re interested in the historical fiction novel, but unsure of how to narrow down your approach? I understand completely, because the world of historical fiction could of course include any topic in history (or prehistory) and that seems like way too much to choose from. Or perhaps you are interested in something specific, like the sinking of the Titanic, but there is so much that is known about the event, that you feel like you could never get it accurate enough and still have creative leeway. Then, once you finally start writing it, you get hung up for days on researching something totally mundane, like what the phrase “dead as a doornail” even means; and believe me, after much effort, I’m still not sure I know that answer. 

So how do we approach writing historical fiction as a literary genre?

We need to keep in mind that historical fictions tend to be stories that are of real people, places, or things that readers take to be basically historically accurate, but are also fictional in some way. If there is something unexplainable in the historical account, you might be able to craft a story around that unexplainable facet. Or if some part of history is too crazy to be real, perhaps when you do some digging, it actually isn’t. Still, it could make a good novel. 

You can also make up historical fictions about entirely fictional in-world events, and tell them as if they were real. Brandon Sanderson’s character, Wit, also known as Hoid, from his Stormlight Archive series, tells characters who encounter him many stories about people in the past that are often useful or important to the character at that moment in their life. These stories are in-world historical fictions in their own right, though the world they are in is entirely made up.

Next Week

Next week, we are moving through the Fiction Pillar of Genre, and talking about the Inspirational Fiction Genre. There are a ton of subgenres that fall under the fiction category and I am so excited to go over them all and find out your favorites. Stay tuned for historical fiction next week and throughout the rest of the year!

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite work of fiction?
  2. Do you have a favorite type of fiction subgenre?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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