There’s something that’s been bugging me for quite a while now, and I think it is time to clear the air, and I think people should understand …
What should be called Historical Fiction, and what should not…
These are my personal opinions. I do not expect anyone to agree with anything here, and in fact, I’m certain that many will disagree and/or even hate many of the things I’ve written below. Sorry about that, but you are always welcome to express your own opinions – be they contrary or comparable – in the comments section. So, with that out of the way… let the controversy begin!
What is Historical Fiction?
I think most publishers and book critics would agree that technically, “Historical Fiction” is a novel where the action takes place during an era in the past, which is at least 40 years (although sometimes some say 50 years) before the publication date of the novel itself. So, we are in 2020 right now, and by the liberal terms of this definition, that means a book where the action takes place before 1980 (or 1970, if we’re being conservative). It really is as simple as that!
What is Contemporary Fiction?
Going by the above guidelines, “Contemporary Fiction” is therefore a book where the action takes place any time within 40-50 years before the publication date (depending on how liberal or conservative you want to be). Yes, I know, that might sound strange to younger readers and reviewers who want to put the label of “historical fiction” on a book published this year, but set in 1985 because they weren’t born until 1990, but you can’t. That’s the cold hard facts here; live with it – that book is “contemporary fiction” and that’s that!
Okay so… what about books written over 40 years ago?
If you ask me, the answer is simple. Books written over 40 years ago should be called “Vintage Fiction.” I know it isn’t a very well-known term (and maybe I just made it up for this post), but I’d really like it to become popular.
To be more precise, a book written in 1910 where the action takes place in 1890 should be called “Vintage Contemporary Fiction” because the action takes place only 20 years before the book was published, but it was released a long time ago. That also means that a book published in 1910 where the action takes place in 1830, would be called “Vintage Historical Fiction” because the release date was long ago, and the action happened over 40-50 years before publication date. Get it?
Now, I know that many people will want to call these older published books “classics” but I think that’s a mistake. While many classics are vintage, not all vintage books are classics. Vintage should only refer to when the book was originally published, not the overall worth or importance of that novel.
What is Classic Fiction, then?
When we think of a classic, one definition I personally like is books that “… have cultural importance. A book that may not have the best writing but was the first book in a genre to do something ground-breaking is a classic.” I would add that a classic book has some societal importance, and that its themes are evergreen as well. This definition is wide enough so that it means that tomorrow someone could write and publish a book that is so different from anything ever published before in that genre, or so culturally or socially important, or so insightful into the human condition, that it will automatically become a “modern classic.” Of course, in 50+ years from tomorrow, that book will just be a classic, but that’s beside the point! (If you want to know the difference between Classic Fiction and Classical Fiction, click on the link at the top of this paragraph.)
- Historical Fiction novels are books set at least 40-50 years prior to the publication date
- Contemporary Fiction novels are books set less than 40-50 years prior to publication date
- Vintage Fiction novels (if you choose to accept this term) are books published over 40 years ago (meaning before the current year and/or before the year the reviewer published their review). Therefore, depending on the setting of that novel, it could be either Vintage Historical or Vintage Contemporary.
Okay, rant over!
So… what do you say?
Can we all finally stop calling books written a long time ago “historical fiction” unless they really are set 40-50 years before they were published?
What do you think of my idea of calling older books “vintage fiction”?
This post is my 18th entry in the 2020 Discussion Challenge, hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!