I was having a discussion about historical fiction on Twitter not too long ago and someone brought up an interesting question: How far back in time does the setting of the book have to be before it’s considered historical? We can all probably agree that a story set in the 1800s is definitely historical, but what about books set in the 1970s, 1980s, or even 1990s? Are they contemporary or historical? One person argued that if she could remember the decade, then the book isn’t historical. For someone like my grandmother, this would mean only books set before the 1930s could be considered historical fiction but for a 12-year old, a story set in 1998 would be considered historical fiction since they weren’t even alive during that year.
Personally, the fewer cultural and societal norms that I can relate to in the story, the more likely I am to consider it to be historical fiction. For example, I don’t remember the 1980s but many of the events, clothing, and music still influence my life now, so the decade isn’t very “historical” to me. On the other hand, I consider the 1960s (or as I like to think of it, the Mad Men era) to be historical because typewriters, rigid gender roles, and black & white televisions seem so far removed from my everyday life.
I think, as a rule of thumb, the fewer people alive from a particular era a book is set in, the more “historical” the book becomes for readers.
What defines historical fiction as “historical” for you?