How often we find ourselves using that term – HISTORY. If we want to make something that happened in our lives seem insignificant we say, “Oh, that’s history.” We’re over it. But what is history when it comes to writing? Some history teachers tell their students that history is anything that happened in the past. So yesterday, I made a broccoli and chicken casserole for dinner. So is that now considered “history?” I don’t think so. But no one will argue with me when I say that in June 1815 Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo as Abba so poignantly reminded us. So where is the line between “history” and “not history”? There are differing opinions. And what about the terms “historical fiction” vs. “period fiction.” Yikes… This is getting complicated!
According to The Historical Novel Society, a novel is considered to be “historical fiction” if the story is written fifty or more years after the events described therein or prior to the writer’s birth. The American Library Association’s RUSA says that the events within the novel need to be at least a generation (25 years) before its publication. And yet, according to the veritable Encyclopedia Britannica, a historical novel need only have its setting be within a period of history with events and details depicted accurately.
So would the Sherlock Holmes series be considered historical fiction? According to the definitions above, yes. However, there are those that profess it is not because historic events are not the primary focus. The same with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. There are those that claim that these works should be considered “period fiction” – novels that occur within a specific time period but have no real focus on depicting actual historic events.
So this brings me back to the 1970’s – the time period for my next novel. Will I be writing a historical novel or a period novel? I guess it doesn’t matter right now because I’m just beginning. But come time to pitch The Summer Girl to agents I will need to be sure which genre I use. (Agents hate it when you get your genre wrong!)
What do you think? Is period fiction a sub-genre of historical fiction? Or is it a genre all of its own? Or is there an ever-morphing line between the two?
Food for thought…