Successful historical fiction – questions for readers and bloggers

The topic of successful historical fiction is a focus for this year’s blogging efforts. I’ve already done two posts examining award winning novels Life After Life by Kate Atkinson and Tightrope by Simon Mawer. More will follow.

Today I’ve created a series of questions for readers and book bloggers and since all of you are readers and some of you are book bloggers, I invite you to provide comments or to contact me directly [mktod at bell dot net] if you’re prepared to be interviewed.

  • What’s your definition of successful historical fiction?
  • What attributes are most important to you when designating a novel ‘successful historical fiction’.
  • Which authors do you think create the most successful historical fiction? (please restrict yourself to a small number of authors!)
  • What makes these particular authors stand out?
  • In your opinion, what aspects prevent a novel from being designated successful historical fiction?
  • Are famous people essential to successful historical fiction?
  • Does successful historical fiction have to say something relevant to today’s conditions?
  • What role does research play in successful historical fiction?
  • In your opinion, how are these elements critical to successful historical fiction? Characters. Setting. Plot. Conflict. Dialogue. World building. Themes.
  • Do you judge historical fiction differently from contemporary fiction?

I suspect there will be a little overlap in these questions. Feel free to comment on as many questions as you can, or as I mentioned above, let me know if you’re willing to be interviewed.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

11 thoughts on “Successful historical fiction – questions for readers and bloggers”

  1. I’d be happy to participate. I’ve reviewed some of your previous statistical compilations from surveys sent and have found them to be helpful. It takes a lot of work to gather the information and put everything together, so thank you for doing this.

  2. One favorite historical novel: E. L. Doctorow’s Ragtime captured the upheaval that was the American Progessive era & is one reason I chose to set my as-yet-unpublished novel in that period. Another favorite: Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants grabbed me for the story & circus world, which had me thinking Gruen must have grown up in the circus. She didn’t, & that goes to your question about research, which is how we find the big & little things essential to a believable story. A novel doesn’t need real historical characters to be successful. When real people are included, the author can fictionalize events but, for me, must remain true to who that person was. That’s what I strive to do with Helen Keller, who is a secondary character in my novel. I think most novels will to some extent have content relevant to today’s time, but I don’t want to feel I’m reading a cautionary tale. When I began writing my novel, the U.S. wasn’t suffering from anti-immigration fever. In my novel, prejudice against eastern & southern Europeans is an issue, but I hope it doesn’t read as thought I’m preaching. I’ll be interested to see what others have to say in answer to this survey.

  3. I really love reading historical fiction novels. I think they are a fun read when they are done well. I honestly don’t think that famous people are essential to a successful historical fiction. I prefer it more when they are mentioned to give context, but if they are written about them, I don’t find them as enjoyable. If they are written well enough, however, I will always give it a shot!

  4. I am a beginner novelist, having just published two Historical Fiction novels about James Dunsmuir and Hatley Castle in the late 1800’s I am on my third novel,
    9 Dragons, and am being heavily criticized as to the true definition of Historical Fiction.
    My story is about two Chinese girls who are banned from attending public school in the Victoria School District in 1923. ( Historical Fact. )
    The Chairman of the Board of Education, George Jay, leads the School Board to direct Principals in the district to keep Chinese students from attending because they are Chinese. ( Historical Fact )
    This story peaked my imagination when a news article appeared on our local station, stating that the name of George Jay Elementary school was being considered for a change to a more appropriate and less confrontational name. ( Historical Fact )

    The story is set in Victorias’ Chinatown district. There is a fair degree of tension between the white merchants and chinese shop keepers. ( Historical Fact )

    In a portion of the story, I have included a section about how derelict and dilapidated some of the shops and shacks in Chinatown had become. Often, there was opium begin dealt and smoked in these areas. ( Historical Fact), unpleasant to include in the story line, but a necessary fact. ( Historical Fact )

    I further stated that the derelict condition often led to some businesses being burned to the ground, because the Victoria Fire Brigade would not engage in fire fighting in any area of Chinatown, mainly due to the hazards presented to the “white” firefighters dedicated to putting out fires and saving lives. (Fiction )
    The Chinese business owners then took it upon themselves to create and fund their own fire department, buying horses and equipment locally and staffing it with Chinese volunteers. ( Fiction )

    The saviours of the day proved to be three of the male main characters taking on the images and personna of Nine magical Chinese Dragons. They magically rebuild a new Chinese School, basically thumbing their noses at the Victoria School Board. If you won’t allow our children to go to your schools, then we will build our own. (Fiction)

    Can I defend the portions on opium caused fires and the chinese community creating their own fire department as Fictional? It is just that, but I am being questioned as to using this bit of info as pure fiction, when no fires ever happened , nor was there any fires of significance in Chinatown, nor was there a Chinese fire brigade set up just for Chinatown. Can I create situations that never existed? I have included a few paragraphs under Author’s Notes that explains the criteria of Historical Fiction and ow my story, 9 Dragons, fits in.

    Or should I delete this section and refocus the elements of the story.

    I believe I have a case for inclusion, but I would love to have an expert opinion.

    Many thanks,

    Ted Waring
    twaring1951@gmail.com
    Victoria, BC, Canada

    1. Hi Ted … I’m not claiming to be an expert – just an enthusiastic reader and author who has spent a huge amount of time analyzing the genre, soliciting input, collecting data and so on. Historical fiction is just that … historical (based on history as you’ve done) and plausible fiction (what comes out of your imagination, based on a thorough understanding of history and humanity to ascertain the ‘what if’ of fiction). My advice? Go for it!

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