What Qualifies A Novel As Historical

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I've been struggling to decide whether or not I can classify my novel set in the mid-1960s as historical. Recently, I posed this question on several writer's forums and got some great answers. But the one I really think solidified my feelings that my work is "historical" is the one by LDSPublisher. Her response was illuminating, and greatly appreciated.

Historical fiction, simply defined, is when an author puts fictional characters against a setting of real historical events. Usually, to call it historical, the fictional characters need to interact with real historical figures or take part in/be impacted by the actual events.

What defines a historical event? Some people would call a novel set in the 70s historical fiction. Personally, I'm offended by that. I remember the 70s. Sort of. The 1950s is borderline. By the time you get to WWII, it would definitely be classified as historical.

Just because you can take a plot from one era and make it work just as well in another era doesn't mean it isn't a historical novel. However, the more the story depends upon the actual historical event, the more truly "historical" it is.

By that definition, even though it's more recent than most historical works, I still think my novel fits the bill. It's set with the Vietnam War as a backdrop. Kids are talking about either joining up, or being drafted, and even draft dodging. Arguments and even fist fights break out over that subject.

So, what does all that mean?

It means I need to start marketing it as a historical as well as young adult. I think that should open more agents' doors. At least I'm hoping so.

So, does your work fit within that definition, or are you writing more contemporary?

About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Thursday, November 19, 2009

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