Historical Fiction – readers have their say

source: clipartbest.com
source: clipartbest.com

You, dear readers, have been patient with the charts and numbers I’ve thrown at you from last year’s survey. Who knows, some of you may even have changed the way you market your novels or the novels themselves as a result of insights from the data.

As 2014 closes, I thought you might be interested in what readers had to say when asked the following question: Reflecting on your favourite historical fiction books, how relatively important are the following factors? That question was followed by ten factors from ‘feeling immersed in time and place’ to ‘romance and/or sex’. And a space for write in comments.

Let’s hear from readers directly. I’ve picked a range of responses I found interesting. At some point I can create a graph organized by topics mentioned.

If the story moves me that is what is really the most important. I have to be drawn in, to be swept back in time and into this world created by the author. I do strongly prefer that the historical elements be researched and as authentic as possible without detracting from the story (it is fiction after all).


I loathe anachronistic details like names that were not commonly used in that era, or anyone saying ‘okay’.


I love to be swept up in a good story. A historical setting just makes it even more of an escape.


I read for entertainment mostly, so I can be forgiving of minor issues. I prefer stories with humor to balance the drama, and a good sense of setting and detail. It’s nice to learn something from HF but when I want just the facts I read non-fiction.


Modern mindsets and values placed in historical fiction is a major fault with some writers.


I prefer historical authors who can both be relatively accurate but also weave together compelling stories. Blatant anachronism bothers me. I won’t stick with a book if I’m not completely immersed in it.


I want to care about the characters. I also want to feel the author has done their homework. I want to trust that the information I’m given is true and correct.


Historical accuracy is very important to me. Poor research is the main reason why I stop reading a book or decide to avoid an author.


I enjoy a story that takes me out of my own life for a period of time. I want to laugh, cry and see characters who are real people not larger than life characters who are too perfect or too faulty for me to identify with. I want heroes who fall down and heroines who love them when they do.


I want a good, thumping read where I can’t put the book down.


Lately, a lot of historical fiction has turned into a sexy soap opera. This takes away from the serious events and often times puts the focus of an era or a family onto bickering wives and affairs rather than on those who changed a significant aspect of history.


It varies considerably. Some writers I read just for the pleasure of their writing. Others I look for strong characters and interesting plots.


A great story well told is irresistible. I look for favorite authors but am delighted to discover new ones. Dislike formulaic books of any kind but good romances can certainly add interest. I am a voracious reader who has read thousands of books in my lifetime. A good book is almost as essential as food.


Like the romance. Hate explicit sex.


If a character has faults this makes him more human. If he fails to gain favour or position, again a believable human trait. It is how the author deals with some of the lesser characters which are necessary to the plot that puts realism into the retelling of a historical event or time-line.


The lives of ordinary people who find themselves at the heart of extraordinary, historic events.


I want the history/events to be more than backdrop. I want the history to be as important as the characters and the conflict tied as much to the history as the journey of the characters.


Plot construction just as important in historical fiction even though it follows historical fact.


Looks like a great list to consult as I write novel number three. I’ll be back in the new year.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

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17 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing this. It has made a difference in how I am marketing and it resonates with me as a reader as well. T.K.

    T.K. Thorne http://www.TKThorne.com

    Angels at the Gate March, 2015!

    Stay in the Loop! Signup for T.K.’s Korner Private Newsletter Bloging at: T.K.s-Tales : What Moves Me—Whales to Whirling Dervishes!


  2. Reading all these comments convinces me even more that you can’t please everyone! Always best to write for yourself… “to thine own self be true” still sounds about right to me.

  3. Actually, all this reads true…I cast aside book after book with modern language, women who just couldn’t behave like that etc etc etc…and plots that…well, often I can’t find them. I fear the reader has to be written for…take the point, though. What I love most about this is how accuracy IS important and yet I recall at one HNS conference how some authors said it was secondary. Thanks MK.

    1. On both my surveys accuracy came out as a very critical ingredient of favourite historical fiction. Readers are prefer to have historical detail handed out in small and appropriate doses – almost as though you hardly notice it!

  4. These comments confirm everything I believe in and which I strive to achieve in writing my own historical novels. And it’s interesting to hear personal preferences – eg a love interest seems to be a plus, but sex maybe not? (Something to bear in mind as I’m currently preparing my Janna Chronicles for publication!) But yes, ultimately I agree with ‘Feud Writer’ that you need to write for yourself, and hope readers will also fall in love with the characters and their situation as you have done in order to write the books in the first place!

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