Historical fiction is a literary genre that takes place in the past. The setting is drawn from history, and often contains historical persons. Writers of stories in this genre work to portray the manners and social conditions of the persons or time(s) presented in the story, with attention paid to period detail.
In her preface to the book , Lynda Adamson debates the true definition of the term "historical fiction." She states that a "generally accepted definition" is a story "about a time period at least 25 years before it was written," but she respectfully disagrees, saying that people will view a novel as "historical" if it is about a past time period, even if the author was writing about his or her own times (she gives Jane Austen as an example; people will view Austen's works as historical, even if they were not intended in that way). Adamson offers her own definition: "If the setting is in a time earlier than that with which the reader is familiar, it is historical fiction."
Historical fiction presents a story that takes place during a notable period in history, and often during a significant event in that period. Setting usually takes priority in a work of historical fiction, and the author should be making some sort of statement or observation about the period where and/or when the work is taking place. Historical fiction often presents events from the point of view of fictional characters of that time period. Events portrayed in historical fiction must adhere to the laws of nature.
In some historical fiction, famous events appear from points of view. Historical figures are also often shown dealing with these events while depicting them in a way that has not been previously recorded. Other times, a historical event is used to complement a story's narrative, occurring in the background while characters deal with situations (personal or otherwise) wholly unrelated to that historical event. Sometimes, the names of people and places have been in some way altered.
Artistic license is permitted in regard to presentation and subject matter, so long as it does not deviate in significant ways from established history. If events should deviate significantly, the story is likely to be classified as alternate history. This is defined by presenting and exploring a different outcome of an historical event, for instance, if the South had won the American Civil War. speculating on what could have happened if a significant historical event had occurred differently.
"...They demonstrate that history, however disorderly, remains meaningful. History can still enable humanity to know itself and its condition, and in the historical novel, especially the type devoted to recapturing the way it was, history often finds its most legitimate realization." (Cowart, 1989)
Patrick O'Brian: 'Master and Commander' series of novels featuring Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin in the British Royal Navy, set in the Napoleonic Wars
Zoé Oldenbourg: The World is Not Enough, The Cornerstone, and Destiny of Fire, chronicle the Crusades.
Edith Pargeter OBE: A Bloody Field By Shrewsbury; The Heaven Tree trilogy, set in the Welsh Marches in the 13th century; The Brothers Gwynedd Quartet featuring Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last Prince of Wales; as "Ellis Peters", Pargeter authored the highly popular Cadfael Chronicles, 20 mysteries set in 12th-century Britain during the Anarchy, which became the BBC series Cadfael
Richard Zimler: The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (16th-century Lisbon), Hunting Midnight (19th-century Porto and Charleston, South Carolina), Guardian of the Dawn (17th-century Goa) and The Seventh Gate (Berlin in the 1930s) explore the lives of different generations of a Portuguese-Jewish family.
Markus Zusak: The Book Thief, set in Nazi Germany; follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger
Media and culture
Works of historical fiction are not reserved to literature. Many films have been created which use a historic event or setting as a backdrop, with actors portraying fictional or historical figures participating in these events.
These are expensive and lavish to produce, as they are seen to require panoramic settings, on-location filming, authentic period costumes. In many cases, they were produced on an epic scale, with large casts of characters. Biographical films may be less lavish versions of this genre. They are sometimes called costume dramas for their emphasis on the outward aspects of the period setting: historical pageantry, costuming and wardrobes, locale, spectacle, decor and a sweeping visual style.