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Historical Fiction Subgenres

 This week, let's take a look at the Historical fiction skeleton by examining a few subgenres.

Historical fiction is most often categorized by the era explored.

1. Early Human/Prehistoric History focuses on the time before written history. They can explore cavemen or proto European and African hunter-gatherer tribes.

2. Alternate History explores what would have happened if a historical event had turned out differently. What if the South had won instead of the North?

2. Ancient Greece History is set from 900 BC to 146 BC before the Romans invaded Greece. Ancient Greece brought us Plato and the birth of theater, philosophy, medicine, democracy, science, and reason. It brought us Mt. Olympus, Zeus, and the pantheon of Titans and Gods.

3. Ancient Rome History is set between 1,000 BC and the fall of the empire in 476. AD. Ancient Romans conquered a great deal of the known world including most of Europe, Russia, and parts of Africa, until it declined and crumbled into the sands of time. They created their versions of the Greek Gods. In the 300s AD, the emperor Constantine went from feeding Christians to the lions to adopting the religion, leading to the creation of the Pope and the Vatican.

3. Dark Ages/Early Middle Age History is set during 500 AD to 1000 AD. The decline of the Roman Empire was followed by a time of cultural and economic deterioration. Populations declined in urban centers, trade decreased, and barbarians invaded. The Byzantine  Empire thrived and in the 700s the Islamic caliphates conquered parts of the Roman Empire. In the 800s, Charlemagne declared himself Emperor and created the Carolingian Empire. The Vikings settled in the British Isles and France. Norse Christian kingdoms developed in Scandinavia. Except for the Mongol invasions, major barbarian incursions ceased.

4. High Middle Age History is set in 1000 AD to 1200 AD. Populations rapidly increased bringing social and political reform. Europe largely returned to a feudal agriculture system. The high middle ages featured the Crusades, new codes of chivalry, Arthurian courtly love, and advances in mathematics, poetry, and philosophy. The vast forests and marshes of Europe were cleared and cultivated. Northern Europe was greatly affected by the Viking expansion. The Christians took the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors and the Normans colonized southern Italy. Gothic cathedrals were built. 

5. The Late Middle Ages were ravaged by the Black Death, wars, and economic stagnation.

6. Early American History includes the colonization of America by the Europeans up to the War of Independence with Britain.

7. Regency/Georgian History is set in Europe from 1795 to 1837 during the reign of King George III and his son, King George IV. Their reigns spawned a new excessive culture of literature, fashion, architecture, manners and dress. It covered the Napoleonic wars and the French Revolution.

8. Victorian History is set in Europe from 1837 until 1901 during the reign of Queen Victoria and was marked by a long period of peace, except for the brief Crimean wars, advances in technology and industrialization. It also was a time of buttoned-up morality. The difficulties in Ireland occurred during the mid to late 1900s with the Easter Rising of 1916 that preceded the demise of British Empire.

9. Edwardian History is set in Europe during 1901 to 1912. Britain was ruled by King Edward and the Titanic was built and sank. Fashion and art underwent significant changes along with morality. The King loved to travel and brought back influences from all over the globe. Politics shifted, common laborers and women became political forces. It was also the
time of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and the Gilded Age of the United States.

10. World War I History is set during 1914 to 1918, and a war which involved all of the world’s great powers in Europe and the US. By the war’s end, the Germans and Russians were defeated and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires ceased to exist. The map of central Europe was redrawn and the League of Nations was formed.

11. Roaring Twenties History is set after the end of war until the stock market crash in 1930 and focus on the abrupt change in fashion and morals. Industrialization accelerated and hair and hems were cut short. People embraced the "live like you’re dying" philosophy. It was the time of prohibition and suffragettes in the US.

12. Depression Era History is set in 1930 to 1939 following the sobering stock market crash. There was a severe worldwide economic depression. The Great Depression had devastating effects in virtually every country, rich and poor.

13. World War II History is set during 1939 to 1945. The war involved most of the world's nations divided up into the Allies and the Axis. It included the Holocaust, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. It spawned the development and use of nuclear weapons and technology. 

14. Contemporary History is a broad category that includes stories set after the second World War. They include distinct decades that had their own fads, mores, and fashions: The 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and now certain moments in the 2000s. The eras feature the baby boomers, the post baby boomers, and generations X and Y.

15. Christian History features Christian themes and explores historical events from a Christian perspective. They can explore the creations and battles for autonomy of the myriad offshoots and variations of the one god theologies. The protagonists often struggle to lead spiritual lives in a secular world.

16. Historical Adventure/Thriller is a fast-paced and action-oriented hybrid of historical explorations, adopting elements of Thriller.

17. Literary History uses slow, literary pacing to explore a moment in time or the events that changed history and can be epic-length and multigenerational.

18. Nautical History takes place at sea, featuring captains and crew, smugglers and pirates, galleons and submarines.

Amazon's Historical subcategories.

Check out the Historical Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

Next week, we will look at the building blocks for the Historical story skeleton.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.


  1. Native American Indian history. Civil War Era/Reconstruction Era History. US Rail Building History.

  2. My Favorite is missing, otherwise, terrific list.
    My favorite - Opening of the American West, Trappers/Mountain-men, Indian Wars, Oregon Trail, Cattle Drives, beginning of the ranching west, town building, the rail road - my favorite era of historical fiction. This was also the period made famous on 1950s and 60s TV with Hollywood's version of the west.

  3. These are included in the Western story skeleton workbook. I grew up watching Westerns and Prairie settlement books are among my favorites. They have made a small comeback on film and television.