Elements of Historical Fiction

According to an article titled “7 Elements of Historical Fiction”, in general writers of fiction must address seven crucial elements: character, dialogue, setting, theme, plot, conflict, and world building.

The characters could be based off of real or imaginary individuals.  They typically would however, act appropriate for the time period.  For instance, a slave during civil war times would behave much differently than a Confederate soldier.  The writer’s goal is to expose these characters of the past to the reader.

The second element, dialogue, can easily distract the reader if a literature work is comprised entirely of a vernacular foreign to them.  The writer should introduce some vocabulary and general grammatical structure from the time period but, they should stick primarily with words and phrases the reader is familiar with.

Setting is perhaps one of the most important elements of any historical fiction work.  The reader should be placed in the period almost immediately.  They should transcend into the setting of the novel even more so as the story goes on.

The theme of a novel is important to the time period.  Themes need to be taken into context.  For instance, loyalty may mean something completely different during the Wei Dynasty when compared to America in the 21st century.

The next element, plot, must correspond to the time period, as well.  Typically the historical events that take place will shape the plot.  A story about Rome around 45 BC may revolve around the life of Julius Caesar and his infamous dictatorship over the Roman people.

Conflict, which is critical for any good story to have, involves the characters themselves or even a group of people.  The previous example about Julius Caesar could revolve around many conflicts, whether it is with Rome’s enemies at the time or, internal conflicts with himself.

This brings the last element, world building.  Think of world building as creating a scene for the reader to step into and become a part of.  Historical fiction novels are typically meant to place the reader into the past and allow them to experience what it was like.

Overall, literature works may stress some elements more than others but, a good historical fiction novel should address them all in some shape or form.


Tod, M. K. (2015, March 24). 7 Elements of Historical Fiction. Retrieved from A Writer of History: https://awriterofhistory.com/2015/03/24/7-elements-of-historical-fiction/