Historical fiction is a type of fiction that tells a story set within a historical era or time period. Such fiction includes settings that consist of specific historical locations, and oftentimes the stories will focus on, or at least highlight, actual events that took place in history. Other plot elements might be real or fictional, but they all must meet historical accuracy, which means a certain level of research is required of contemporary writers. The characters within a piece of historical fiction may be historical, fictional, or a combination of both. Historical stories span a variety of formats and may be written and read, or performed and watched.
Perhaps the most significant characteristic of historical fiction is the historical accuracy of the setting. Settings within historical fiction pieces generally include historical locations and take place during historical eras. Since accuracy is often of the utmost importance, a contemporary writer of historical stories must allow himself time to research the time period and present a truthful portrayal. Plot, on the other hand, provides some flexibility. A writer might create a plot that relies heavily on historical events, such as the American Civil War, or he might create a story that simply takes place during a certain time period, such as 16th century England.
Similar to the plot, the characters within historical fiction pieces offer some flexibility. For example, a writer might use characters drawn from history or he might choose to create his own fictional characters. Many historical fiction writers choose to employ a mixture of character types, and may or may not have those characters directly interact with one another. Similar to the settings, however, writers must conduct adequate research to make sure their characters and their behavior matches that of what history tells us of people of that specific time period. This is true whether a writer uses fictional or historical characters.
Historical fiction can take several different formats. Historical novels, such as “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, are well-known examples of written period pieces. Of course, novels aren’t the only kinds of written historical stories, as Mark Twain’s various short stories are clear examples of fiction that includes period detail of the early American South. Sometimes, written pieces are performed. For example, many script- and screenwriters write or adapt historical pieces for television and movies, as do playwrights for stage performances.