What is it about historical fiction that makes it so endearing? What’s ensured its popularity throughout every age of literacy? On a personal level, I’ll admit I’ve always been a fan (and student) of history, so there’s that. Then there’s the old adage – those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. But my love of this genre goes well beyond scholarly pursuits or the fear of repetitious mistakes.
If we dive down into the weeds, why does anyone read? What pleasure do we derive from a well crafted story? I doubt anyone would argue that a good tale takes us away from our “ordinary” and immerses us in a world of the author’s choosing (and by extension our own when we turn the page to Chapter One). We trust the author to tell us his or her truth and take us along for the ride (and then bring us home safe and sound).
Who among us hasn’t imagined ourselves, or another version of ourselves, in another period of time? This might be a time in our history where we feel more comfortable. It may be a yearning for a simpler decade, or a desire to live closer to the land. Maybe it’s an opportunity to meet our heroes. Perhaps we wish for the chance to fight the good fight for a cause we feel strongly about, or to right one of history’s many wrongs. There have been many! If that’s you, then you should already be a fan of historical fiction. And every sub-genre falls under its umbrella! There’s romance, horror, magical realism, mysteries, tragedies, suspense, and westerns (of course) set in historic settings ready to captivate readers, and enthrall them with another sense of time and space.
If your imagination fast forwards you into a future time rather than longing for the past, science fiction may be your genre of choice, but even here, do not discount the possibilities created by historical fiction! What if we went back to Tesla’s time to uncover discoveries hidden from our modern eyes? How about a jaunt to ancient Sumeria to spend some time with their gods? Were the Sumerian writings really indicative of an alien connection to our genetic code? But don’t stop there! What about Easter Island, the pyramids, Stonehenge…?
Stories from our past define us as a people and expose us to unfamiliar cultures- even if our own. It shows us who we were, but also provides the road map to our future. An astute reader might pick up on the commonality of all creeds and nations when our basic needs were more raw and exposed.
Historical fiction gives a keyboard puncher a rare opportunity to right wrongs. We can create a story casting historic figures in a new light, give them life where life was stolen, or justice where they received tragic condemnation. We can award posthumous accolades to the heroes who left us too soon. What could be more rewarding than that?
For a writer, this genre requires more research than any other form of story telling. To suspend disbelief in our stories- job one- we have to see and feel the same things the people from that time and place saw and felt. Using a phrase that originated ten years after our timeline, or mentioning an invention not yet in common usage, negates all of our efforts. Despite the extra challenge, or perhaps because of it, I feel it is also the most rewarding. It allows us to expose the relatively unknown people and periods in our history. And as it is fiction, we can introduce an author’s favorite question: What if?