Historical genre novels are set at least fifty years in the past. The story usually concerns a historical event or period of time. Because historicals are set in different periods of time, each period is sometimes considered a sub-genre. But if you separate historical fiction by time periods, you could end up with thousands of sub-genres.
The best historical genre novels have the historical period they’re set in as a vital part of the story. Strive to make the time period come alive. You don’t want to write a historical where the story would work in present day as easily as it would in the time period it is set in.
Historicals are usually 80,000 to 100,000 words but are sometimes longer. Those who read historicals expect them to be steeped in research of the time period. You don’t want to make the mistake of having a person from the 1860’s drink a glass of iced tea when it was introduced at the world’s fair in 1904. Mistakes like that will cost you readers.
Historicals also should be written with the mindset of the period of time you’re writing about. For instance, don’t give a Viking from the middle-ages a mindset of a twenty-first century American who wants to avoid bloodshed. The typical Viking had no problem with being bloodthirsty. Also, a man on the trail in the old West would look at you strange if you suggested he try being a vegetarian or avoid wearing fur. Historical readers have no tolerance for giving characters mindsets that don’t go with the period of time you’re writing about.
As mentioned before, historical novels can be divided according to time period and setting, but a better way is to categorize them according to types of historicals.
Historical Saga: The historical saga covers a broad period of time and can deal with families over several generations. John Jakes and James Michener are two example of saga authors.
Historical Romance: Historical romances are very popular with Christian booksellers. These stories are about the relationship between a man and woman. The difference between this and a Romance with a historical sub-genre is the romance is set in the past but could easily be placed in present times. A true historical romance has the time period and setting as an important part of the story. “Mark of the Lion Series” and “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers are two good examples of this.
Historical Adventure: This is a story that takes place in history and brings the characters along for an exciting adventure. Suspense, angst, and drama can be a part of these stories, and many times they cover a specific event in history like the Civil War or World War II. “Masada” by Ernest Gann would be an example of a historical adventure. Most westerns also fit in this category.
Cross-Genre: Historical novels can have any genre as it’s sub-category if the story is set in the past such as mystery, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. Any genre will work. “The Falconer Series” by Ian Morsen is an example of a historical mystery.