Historical fiction is a literary genre in which the plot takes place in a setting located in the past. Although the term is commonly used as a synonym for the historical novel, it can also be applied to other types of narrative, including theatre, opera, cinema, and television, as well as video games and graphic novels.
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An essential element of historical fiction is that it is set in the past and pays attention to the manners, social conditions and other details of the depicted period. Authors also frequently choose to explore notable historical figures in these settings, allowing readers to better understand how these individuals might have responded to their environments. Some subgenres such as alternate history and historical fantasy insert speculative or ahistorical elements into a novel.
Works of historical fiction are sometimes criticized for lack of authenticity because of readerly criticism or genre expectations for accurate period details. This tension between historical authenticity, or historicity, and fiction frequently becomes a point of comment for readers and popular critics, while scholarly criticism frequently goes beyond this commentary, investigating the genre for its other thematic and critical interests.
Historical fiction as a contemporary Western literary genre has its foundations in the early-19th-century works of Sir Walter Scott and his contemporaries in other national literatures such as the Frenchman Honoré de Balzac, the American James Fenimore Cooper, and later the Russian Leo Tolstoy. However, the melding of "historical" and "fiction" in individual works of literature has a long tradition in most cultures; both western traditions (as early as Ancient Greek and Roman literature) as well as Eastern, in the form of oral and folk traditions (see mythology and folklore), which produced epics, novels, plays and other fictional works describing history for contemporary audiences.