In this multi-post series, we hope to answer some of your questions about different genre fiction. Throughout GENRE FICTION 101, you’ll learn about different genres and their place in the publishing world. We’ll discuss popularity, profits, typical tropes, controversies, and more. Read the first installment here.

What is historical fiction?

That’s easy! Historical fiction is just a narrative that takes place sometime in the past.

. . . Right?

Actually, it’s not all as simple as that. At the Association of Writers and Writers Programs (AWP) annual conference in March 2002, Sarah Johnson from Eastern Illinois University described historical fiction as “a genre full of controversy and contradiction.” Unfortunately, there is no end-all-be-all definition of the genre, but because of that, historical fiction has and continues to evolve, especially as it’s become more popular.

 

How far in the past?

This is one of the controversial topics of the genre. How long ago does a story need to be in order to be considered historical? Twenty years? One hundred? The numbers seem to vary depending upon which resources you’re looking at. The Historical Novel Society, though, classifies that historical fiction must take place at least fifty years in the past.

 

Other characterizations of the genre

Given that time parameter, is a narrative set fifty years in the past automatically historical fiction? While this is the most basic definition of the genre, it seems like a book needs more than simply taking place in 1970 to be “historical fiction.” After all, if that were the case, a book could state in the first sentence that the story takes place in 1970, but then just follows an agoraphobe as he sits in