Join us in April as Writer’s Zen celebrates the world of historical fiction, blogging along with the A to Z Blog Challenge. We’ll be posting our way through the alphabet, a letter at a time – every day except Sunday.
If you like historical fiction, there are links at the end where you can follow Pages of the Past on Facebook or sign up for the weekly newsletter. Each week we feature an article about writing historical fiction, spotlight a historical fiction author, and share great reads in a variety of time periods. There are also occasional short story contests and other fun highlights.
Today, introduces the letter N.
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What makes a fictional novel fall into the ‘historical fiction’ category? There seems to be some debate about the time frame that nudges a novel into the historical fiction genre. Wikipedia states:
Definitions differ as to what constitutes a historical novel. On the one hand the Historical Novel Society defines the genre as works “written at least fifty years after the events described”, while critic Sarah Johnson delineates such novels as “set before the middle of the last [20th] century … in which the author is writing from research rather than personal experience.”
If we use the Historical Novel Society’s definition, any fictional tale set before 1970 would be considered historical fiction. I’m not really sure how I feel about using that criteria. Because I could easily write a story set in the 1970s and it would be debatable about whether it’s historical fiction or not. It’s borderline on the cutoff date, but it’s the “writing from personal experience” part that troubles me. I could write a story from personal experience in the 1970s, and what I’m not sure about is how I feel about coming that close to the edge of ‘historical’.
Now the 1950s, or the ‘Nifty Fifties’ as they’re sometimes called, I couldn’t write from personal experience. Granted, I was born then (barely – 1958), but I have no recollections of my first two years of life. Whew! I’m saved on that one. Although those years seem familiar enough that it seems like I lived the 1950s. But I think that’s because of the stories I heard from Mom and Dad about their living through the 1950s – and the massive amounts of Happy Days reruns I devoured as a child.
What makes the 1950s different from other generations or eras?
A big difference in family life was the popularity of the television set. According to Wikipedia:
The 1950s are known as The Golden Age of Television by some people. Sales of TV sets rose tremendously in the 1950s and by 1950 4.4 million families in America had a television set. Americans devoted most of their free time to watching television broadcasts. People spent so much time watching TV, that movie attendance dropped and so did the number of radio listeners. Television revolutionized the way Americans see themselves and the world around them. TV affects all aspects of American culture. “Television affects what we wear, the music we listen to, what we eat, and the news we receive.”
Music played a huge part in this decade. Rock and Roll entered mainstream America, much to the consternation of many of the older folks. Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis…
The new music differed from previous styles in that it was primarily targeted at the teenager market, which became a distinct entity for the first time in the 1950s as growing prosperity meant that young people did not have to grow up as quickly or be expected to support a family. Rock-and-roll proved to be a difficult phenomenon for older Americans to accept and there were widespread accusations of it being a communist-orchestrated scheme to corrupt the youth, although rock and roll was extremely market based and capitalistic.
The American folk music revival became a phenomenon in the United States in the 1950s to mid-1960s with the initial success of The Weavers who popularized the genre. Their sound, and their broad repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs inspired other groups such as the Kingston Trio, the Chad Mitchell Trio, The New Christy Minstrels, and the “collegiate folk” groups such as The Brothers Four, The Four Freshmen, The Four Preps, and The Highwaymen. All featured tight vocal harmonies and a repertoire at least initially rooted in folk music and topical songs.
This influence of the American folk music revival was a great lead in to the 1960s popularity of that musical style.
The film industry was booming in the 1950s. Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Lucille Ball, Sopia Loren, and more. But who can ever forget the iconic male figure of this time – James Dean?
The 1950s was a time of conflict referred to as the ‘Cold War’, involving rival superpowers of the United States against Soviet Union influence.
The Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953 also affected many families across the nation. Wikipedia reports:
The war left 33,742 American soldiers dead, 92,134 wounded, and 80,000 missing in action (MIA) or prisoner of war (POW). Estimates place Korean and Chinese casualties at 1,000,000–1,400,000 dead or wounded, and 140,000 MIA or POW.
SOCIETY BEGINS TO CHANGE
With all these changes, family life and society also began to change.
An article, The 1950s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Overview, discusses many of the changes that came about in this decade. They write:
The 1950s was an era of great upheaval in the United States. By the millions, Americans who had just survived two decades of economic depression and war left the cities for the greenery and open spaces of the suburbs. Suburban towns sprang up like crabgrass across the country. With these instant communities came a new American lifestyle that included suburban malls, fast-food restaurants, TV dinners, drive-in movies, and an oversized, gas-guzzling car in every garage.
If I were going to be writing a story set in the 1950s, there’s a lot more research I’d have to do. But – I probably won’t be doing this. It’s just too close in proximity to years that I have memories of, and I don’t like being that close to something termed ‘historical’.