How To Know If You’re In A Historical Fiction Novel

How To Know If You're In A Historical Fiction NovelIt’s been a while, ladies and gentlemen… remember How To Know If You Are A Chick-Lit Heroine? Or How To Know If You’re A Cop In A Crime Novel?

Not to mention How To Know If You’re In A Young Adult Novel, and my personal favourite, How To Know If You’re In A Literary Fiction Novel.

Well, following on from various musings on historical fiction a few weeks ago, the plight of the historical fiction protagonist has been rattling around in the old brain.

You see, sometimes, when life is going just a little bit awry, we like to take refuge in the past, because the past is full of certainty. But what if our present woes feel like history is repeating itself? What if current events seem just too predictable to be true? Could it be possible that you are not in fact real, but rather a character in a historical fiction novel?

Take the test, and find out.

How To Know If You're A Character In A Historical Fiction Novel

12 Ways To Determine If You’re A Character In Historical Fiction

1.  You have encyclopaedic knowledge of the major world events of your time. Seriously. You’re like the 6 o’clock news, only you have things completely in context. It’s almost like you’re understanding them a century later or something.

2.  You delight in explaining the most mundane and rudimentary things: such as your toilet, your breakfast, and your underclothes. It’s most unseemly for your time period.

3.  You go barefoot, a lot. It is because you are such a free spirit. Or one of the starving poor. Take your pick.

4.  Both you, and indeed everyone you meet, is either good or bad. There are no in-betweens. It’s very useful, because layered, complex characters can really interfere with your plot.

5.  You have between one and three outfits. Each warrants detailed description, right down to the type of fabric used and the spacing of the stitches (rich folks) or the number of holes (poor folks).

6.  You are infuriated by a particularly rude person. This will become awkward later, when you are marrying them, or when they save you from penury and evil.

7.  Either you are an orphan, or several people vital to your life story are orphans. There are orphans everywhere. It is very sad.

8.  You have an uncanny and almost academic expertise in one occupation, be that cathedral-building, pickpocketing, war stratagems, cloth-milling, or the invention of the steam engine. It’s almost like you researched it, but of course that’s impossible, because you can barely read.

9.  You live in either a world-renowned city or a very small village. You do not live in a medium-sized town. Nobody lives in medium-sized towns.

10.  You rebel against the conventions of your age. These conventions and the restrictions they impose seem perfectly normal to everyone around you, indeed they are barely noticeable; but you rebel against them anyway.

11.  You are obsessed with cutlery.

12.  You are 78% more likely to die than major characters in other genres.

How To Know If You're A Character In A Historical Fiction Novel


0-2/12:   You are real: however, you are very old-fashioned. Download an app, and update yourself.

3-7/12:   You are the hero of a historical fiction novel written in the first half of the twentieth century, which makes you doubly historical. Congratulations.

8-11/12:   You are the heroine of a historical fiction novel written in the last twenty years. Only time will tell whether this is a good or a bad thing.

12/12:   You are in Downton Abbey. Sorry you’re out of work, old boy.

  64 comments for “How To Know If You’re In A Historical Fiction Novel

  1. November 5, 2015 at 11:28 am

    Ha ha ha – absolutely brilliant 😀

    There are orphans everywhere. It is very sad – and yet I can’t stop laughing 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • November 5, 2015 at 11:57 am

      The orphans aren’t laughing, Nick. They are crying. Crying softly.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 5, 2015 at 12:30 pm

        *hanging head in shame*

        Hey, I’ve got an idea: tissues! It’s a brand new thing that’s perfect for sniffling orphans! Now on sale!

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 5, 2015 at 12:56 pm

          Oh, you commercial genius! I knew I could count on you to find the silver lining. Or at least the silver that buys the lining. Fabric is extremely important, as I said.

          Liked by 1 person

          • November 5, 2015 at 1:07 pm

            I hear Tark and Mara are preparing a new line of tissues made from Vucana sheep wool, for the truly fashion-conscious orphan.

            Liked by 1 person

            • November 5, 2015 at 1:51 pm

              Someone has to. I mean, a snotty-nosed orphan using just any old tissues isn’t going to get noticed during adoption season, are they?

              Liked by 1 person

  2. November 5, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    I got two out of twelve, but I’m still convinced nothing is real. I’m off to the other How to Know articles to see which book I inhabit.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 12:57 pm

      Chris, I’m glad you were already convinced nothing was real before you got to literary fiction. Could have been awkward.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 5, 2015 at 2:31 pm

        Well I checked and I was in none of the other fiction worlds, so it’s either sci-fi or horror. I’m waiting for the tentacles to appear.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. November 5, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Hmmm *drums fingers* Are you absolutely sure about that percentage in No 12…? Perhaps you meant you’re 78% more likely to die within a few years of achieving some notoriety with your writing, rising to 95% if you’re related to the Bronte’s in some way?

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 12:59 pm

      Oh yes, quite sure, Jan! This is about how to tell if you’re a historical fiction character, remember, not an author. A list of determiners for historical fiction authors wouldn’t be 25% as much fun (let alone clichéd).


  4. November 5, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Fabulous Tara!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. November 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    How apropos! I just published a (an?) historical novel, and here comes Tara Sparling with keen observations on the genre.

    Of course, you’ll have to read Town Father to see if I’ve committed any of these offenses.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. November 5, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    I don’t typically read historical fiction but I have watched it on cable…. which, though it may leave off narrative descriptions of stitching, bodice holes, rampant rebellion, and rude orphans (or some such combo of it all), it does SHOWS them, so there’s that. And yes, lots of bare feet. Given the roughness of the cobblestones in these teeny, bucolic towns so often at the center of things, I’d guess a historically fictional podiatrist could be worked into the plot, but that may be too contemporary. Have you come across one of those… or are they largely relegated to the ruling class in the big city?


    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 5:11 pm

      To my knowledge, before the second world war, all podiatrists lived in a commune in France, thus explaining the hideous state of feet everywhere else. Shoemakers, on the other hand, were everywhere, but unable to make shoes for historical fiction characters, who were bound by the Historical Fiction Character’s Union (Urchins Division) to remain barefoot. A nasty business.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. November 5, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    I meant: it does SHOW them. I know how to use tense. I do. I promise. I need a comment copyeditor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 5:13 pm

      I’ll do it in exchange for shoes, Lorraine. Something sturdy, with inksouls, if you can. Ahem.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. annerallen
    November 5, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    ROTFL!! “There are orphans everywhere. it’s very sad.” I have read every one of these situations in more novels than I can count. Brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks, Anne. All of the non-proceeds from this post will go to the Historical Barefoot Orphans Society. 😀


  9. November 5, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    You need a PML (pissing myself laughing) button, Tara. There was probably a time when that signalled imminent death. Love the new blog look, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      You like it? Thank Blog. It feels dreadfully modern. I think that’s why I’ve been so fixated on the historical fiction lately. As for the PML button, I reckon you’d be fine, as long as the incontinence had cleared up.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. November 5, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    There are few enough blogs written by women that are not all about make-up, dieting or the price of clothes in H&M. However, in the aloof private club of top quality writing by women, you are that duffer, asleep in a deep red leather wing chair. You are the most senior member of that bastion of quality, funny and elegant writing. Bravo!

    I apologise for the gentleman’s club analogy. It is possibly politically incorrect. Not for the women in blogs. I forgot to mention hair extensions. I love reading about hair extensions…

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Conor, how in the name of blazes am I supposed to come up with a cynical, pithy comment when you say lovely things like that?? It puts me off my game. However, I am lulled back into a nice warm snarky place with the duffer analogy. I don’t find it politically incorrect at all. In fact, being compared to a corpulent (and possibly flatulent) Old Boy in such circumstances is possibly the nicest compliment I’ve ever received.

      When you said wing chair, you meant winged eyeliner, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 5, 2015 at 10:29 pm

        I am unable to reply. I have become a coffee snob and am trying to grow a beard. I need to concentrate on the beard. After that, it will be the top knot. Then I will start a men’s fashion blog. This food stuff is going out of fashion.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. November 5, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    I scored yes on 1/4 of the twelve questions. Hmmmm. 🙂 I also happen to have met a couple people who have unfortunately been put in historical fiction novels. They score out on questions 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12. What the heck is it with orphans? Seriously, now that I think about it, almost every historical fiction novel I’ve read has had an orphan in it, or else someone loses their children. I guess that happened in history more than we’d like to think, but not to *everyone.*

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 10:34 pm

      Thank goodness they didn’t hit no. 9, Éilis Niamh. That could have been embarrassing. And I obviously agree with you on the orphans. Any orphan is too many in this life, but historical novels are teeming with them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • November 5, 2015 at 11:02 pm

        Embarrassing? LOL! Well, I guess it is fortunate then that none of the options mentioned in number 9 apply to them. 🙂 And yes, it would certainly be weird if people in historical fiction novels or otherwise didn’t believe in medium-sized towns or if no one ever lived in one. That’s just place discrimination due to average size. 🙂


        • November 5, 2015 at 11:04 pm

          Absolutely. It simply shouldn’t be allowed. I myself was born in a medium-sized town, and although I didn’t live there afterwards, I’ll defend my right to, to the death.

          Liked by 1 person

          • November 11, 2015 at 9:51 pm

            What about Casterbridge? Or the mill towns inhabited by gritty northern heroines? Or is that a specific sub genre?

            Liked by 1 person

            • November 12, 2015 at 9:47 am

              It’s a very specific sub-genre, Elaine, which was in any case only allowed out in public after Elizabeth Gaskell re-introduced Manchester into acceptable society by writing about how horrible it was. It’s still contentious to this day, in fact, and should only be mentioned during Bible study classes.


  12. November 5, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    A minus score? I’m clearly either an earwig or Rusalka.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. November 5, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Too funny! And now please excuse me. I think I have some revision to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 5, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      *creates megaphone with palms*

      Liked by 1 person

  14. November 6, 2015 at 6:51 am

    I’m an orphan. But at 64, that’s not surprising. And I guess I’m a hero. I looked for a few more yeses so I could be a heroine instead, but I try not to cheat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 6, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Well, trying not to cheat could in itself be a qualifier. As we all know, in the past, cheaters always came to a bad end. So you’re on the right track. Congratulations. Perhaps lose the shoes?

      Liked by 1 person

  15. November 6, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Pfeldens dir llfen, (Pictish, meaning) Perhaps I am

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 6, 2015 at 10:37 pm

      Pictish, eh? Well, there’s number 13, then. Indeed you are.


  16. November 7, 2015 at 5:11 am

    Would a prehistoric-al fiction novel qualify? I can get into that. Course that might entail a whole nuther set of questions.


    • November 7, 2015 at 4:20 pm

      It might be slightly out of context, given the lack of villages, cities, steam engines, and cutlery. However, any subgenre deserves its own set of questions – get to it!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. November 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm

    You omitted to mention language. Having been at at open mic event at the weekend, the stilted language of the sixteenth century still clogs my ears and rattles my brain.

    Interesting historical fact I discovered recently which might be of use to those writing in the genre. In the Scottish Borders many towns/villages are seven miles apart. Why? Because three and a half miles was considered the maximum an agricultural labourer could walk to work in fields

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 9, 2015 at 10:18 pm

      That is fascinating! I’m a sucker for trivia like that. And yes. I’d forgotten that everyone in the past spoke in complete sentences. Marvellous era for language, the past.


  18. November 10, 2015 at 3:07 am

    Yet again, TS explains me to myself. It’s almost like she was a writer or something.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 10, 2015 at 8:42 am

      I dunno. She’s a bit too smug for my liking, John. It’s just not traditional.


      • November 10, 2015 at 9:03 am

        I suspect you haven’t read Kenneth Williams’s Diaries. I can no longer use the word “traditional”.

        Liked by 2 people

        • November 10, 2015 at 9:44 am

          I haven’t. I wonder if it’s the same as me and “doily”.


          • November 10, 2015 at 9:56 am

            Well, I don’t know. Is doily your word for describing homosexual activity?


            • November 10, 2015 at 9:59 am

              No, not least because I’ve no issues with that. It’s more to do with the paralysing modernisation of afternoon tea.


  19. November 11, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Excellent post… very clever and well stated…
    I love the way you subtly introduce your views with regard to traditional values when it comes to historical fiction novel… And you are right… Nobody lives in medium-sized towns… Unless you live in Downtown Abbey, but not even the Crawley offspring does nowadays I guess…
    All my best wishes. Aquileana ★🌟

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 12, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Thank you Aquileana! No indeed, the Crawleys will only spend time in their own small village attached to Downton, or London. Just look what happened when they went to York – complete carnage. It took 3 whole series to recover.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. November 11, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    Ok, I admit it. I am obsessed by cutlery. I want to get my hands on the squire’s grapefruit spoon.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. March 28, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Reblogged this on The Order of the White Boar and commented:
    Real, but very old-fashioned? Could be!


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