Ideas for Writing Prompts for Historical Fiction
Events like the Civil War and the Great Depression may lie in the past, but writing historical fiction allows you to re-enact them with original plots, characters and conflicts. By fusing research with creative ideas of your own, you can mix real life and historical events with fiction to evoke authentic settings and people in your stories.
Introduce a Historical Character
Giving your main character a brush with a famous person can add realism to the story's time and place. Have your protagonist encounter a politician, celebrity or social activist as part of your story. For example, a teenage girl in a story set in Texas in the 1950s might befriend rock and roll star Buddy Holly, while an overworked mother in the 1930s Dust Bowl might try to petition President Franklin Roosevelt for help as he passes through her hometown on a campaign stop. Research your chosen historical figure to find details you can incorporate into his behavior and appearance.
Create a Parallel Story Line
In historical fiction, the fictional story line often symbolically reflects the plot's real-life setting. In Markus Zuzak's "The Book Thief," for example, young Liesel's desire for the knowledge found in books is pitted against the widespread censorship and propaganda of Nazi Germany. Choose a historical event, then craft a fictional plot that mirrors the conflict at the heart of the real circumstances. For example, the Civil War would make a rich backdrop for a story about a family that is split apart when the father and oldest son choose to fight on separate sides of the conflict.
Address an Unexplored Viewpoint
Many historical events have perspectives that are underrepresented or unexplored in literature. Write your story from the point of view of a character who experiences a side of the story's true events that frequently goes untold. For example, you might write a story set during the Vietnam War from the perspective of a Vietnamese woman whose husband is fighting in the conflict, or you could create a character from the Revolutionary War who is a British sympathizer. Offering a different side to the story can lend dignity to viewpoints that are often marginalized and give readers an alternate way of seeing history.
Craft a Sense of Place
Because historical fiction takes place in a different era, creating a realistic, authentic setting is a critical element of a successful story in this genre. To set the stage for readers, open your story with a description of what the setting would have been like during your chosen period. For example, a story set in the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma might describe a family's one-room cabin on a lonely, desolate prairie, while a Cold War-era plot might paint a picture of the confined space of a family's backyard bomb shelter. Try looking at historical photos of your selected setting for visual details that can enhance its realism.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.