He got up and sat on the edge of the bedstead with his back to the window. “It’s better not to sleep at all,” he decided. There was a cold damp draught from the window, however; without getting up he drew the blanket over him and wrapped himself in it. He was not thinking of anything and did not want to think. But one image rose after another, incoherent scraps of thought without beginning or end passed through his mind. He sank into drowsiness. Perhaps the cold, or the dampness, or the dark, or the wind that howled under the window and tossed the trees roused a sort of persistent craving for the fantastic. He kept dwelling on images of flowers, he fancied a charming flower garden, a bright, warm, almost hot day, a holiday—Trinity day. A fine, sumptuous country cottage in the English taste overgrown with fragrant flowers, with flower beds going round the house; the porch, wreathed in climbers, was surrounded with beds of roses. A light, cool staircase, carpeted with rich rugs, was decorated with rare plants in china pots. He noticed particularly in the windows nosegays of tender, white, heavily fragrant narcissus bending over their bright, green, thick long stalks. He was reluctant to move away from them, but he went up the stairs and came into a large, high drawing-room and again everywhere—at the windows, the doors on to the balcony, and on the balcony itself—were flowers. The floors were strewn with freshly-cut fragrant hay, the windows were open, a fresh, cool, light air came into the room. The birds were chirruping under the window, and in the middle of the room, on a table covered with a white satin shroud, stood a coffin. The coffin was covered with white silk and edged with a thick white frill; wreaths of flowers surrounded it on all sides. Among the flowers lay a girl in a white muslin dress, with her arms crossed and pressed on her bosom, as though carved out of marble. But her loose fair hair was wet; there was a wreath of roses on her head. The stern and already rigid profile of her face looked as though chiselled of marble too, and the smile on her pale lips was full of an immense unchildish misery and sorrowful appeal. Svidrigaïlov knew that girl; there was no holy image, no burning candle beside the coffin; no sound of prayers: the girl had drowned herself. She was only fourteen, but her heart was broken. And she had destroyed herself, crushed by an insult that had appalled and amazed that childish soul, had smirched that angel purity with unmerited disgrace and torn from her a last scream of despair, unheeded and brutally disregarded, on a dark night in the cold and wet while the wind howled

40 Writing Prompts and Ideas for Historical Fiction (with pictures!)

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Are you a curious novelist exploring uncharted genres or are you a current writer of the past seeking new adventures?

Whatever your purpose, these 40 historical writing prompts, partnered with a collection of vintage photographs, are guaranteed to help you get ideas, transcend to an inspiring era and help you to write your own piece of history.

And once you’re done with these prompts, please visit my post on “How to Write Historical Fiction.”

1. The Lonely Lighthouse

White Head lighthouse, August 1899As a survivor of a massive sea storm, you seek safety inside of a mysterious 19th century lighthouse off the coast of Cornwall. Describe the fascinating (or frightening) discoveries that await inside.

2. Behind Enemy Lines

Photo 2 Town

It’s 1864, and the United States is in the middle of a Civil War. Write a scene in which an undercover Union soldier passes through a quaint southern town brimming with Confederate rebels. 

3. Fire at the Factory

Photo 3 Factory Fire

Imagine you’re an Irishman working at a factory in the 1930s. It’s your first day on the job. Without having the proper training, you accidentally set fire to the plant. Write a mock report of how the fire started and how your character escaped fault.

4. The Traveling Circus Clown

Photo 4 ClownIt’s 1925, and the circus has come to town. Write an accident story involving one of the star performers with an ironic twist where it is up to one of the spectators to save the show.

5. The French Ruler

Photo 5 Frenchman

Write a chapter in the point of view of an English spy who attempts murder during Louis XIV’s coronation in 17th century France. How does your tyrant plan to execute their mission and are they successful?

6. Swan Lake

Photo 6 Swans on the Lake

A group of close friends meet for the last time before going in separate ways in 1940s England. Write a scene about their last moment together.  Do they make a pact to see each other again in 10 years or do they reminisce back in time to the day they first met?

7. Sailing Away

Photo 7 Sailboat

In 1950s Charleston, South Carolina, two teenagers escape the troubles of boyhood to go on an adventure of a lifetime. What conflict do they have with each other as they go on their voyage and where do they go?

8. The Dinner Bell

Photo 8 Men in front of kitchen

See what’s cooking in this 1940s California kitchen. Imagine you are a food columnist for the local newspaper. Write a mock interview and include a secret family recipe that accidentally gets leaked.

9. Egypt

The National Galleries of ScotlandWrite a story about a female archaeologist from 19th century England who meets a gentleman on an expedition who claims that he was once an Egyptian pharaoh.

10. Aerial View Beach

Photo 10 Aerial View Beach

As an airplane pilot you are much more aware of what’s happening in the sky rather than the ground. Write a scene where the pilot flies over a beach and spots a crowd of beach-goers flocking to the surf. Do a 15 minute freewrite of what you see in the water.

11. Turquoise Waters 

Photo 11 Island

You are an inhabitant on a tropical Mediterranean island. One day you go out for a stroll along the cliffs when you notice a strange ship across the waters coming toward your home. Write one chapter where you describe who’s on board the ship and what they want. Are they friends or enemies?

12. Kooky Cribs

Photo 12 Unusal House

Write a story about an orphaned child in the 1970s that meets a strange family who resides in an even stranger house on the California coast.

13. He’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain

Photo 13 Mountain Pass

Write a scene about a family man traveling through a mountain pass in 19th century Oregon, unaware of what’s coming fast around the corner. Write a paragraph of how he connects fate with destiny.

14. Block Party

Photo 14 Protest Meeting

Extra! Extra! Write a scene about a group gathering in the streets of Chicago, Illnois in the 19th century. Are employees going on strike? Are women fighting for equal rights against men? Or are people cheering for the one person that could lead a hopeless village to a brighter future?

15. The Butler Did It

Photo 16 Study Room

Write one chapter about a female housekeeper who explores her master’s study in 19th century France. What all does she discover and is it something that she rather not have wished to find?

16. The Long Journey Home

Photo 17 Postman

Write a story about a boy who ran from home after revealing a scandalous family secret that should have been kept jan drugs canada under lock and key. Now a man, fifteen years later, he’s returned home only to discover that there is still unrest after his plaguing mishap.

17. On Top of God’s Mountains

Photo 18 Hut on Mountain

Write one chapter from the point of view of a 1970s mountain climber in Colorado, who discovers a brick hut on top of a mountain. Is it inhabited or is there a certain relic which transcends him to a different era?

18. The Road to Nowhere

Photo 19 alleywayDo a quick free write in the point of view of a homeless civilian who discovers a suspicious alleyway during 1929 of The Great Depression that leads to a grand (or horrific) revelation.

19. Buffalo Dreams

Photo 20 Tribel Camp

Write a journal entry in the point of view of a female pioneer of her abduction by the Sioux Indian tribe in the early 19th century.

20. Oriental Ornaments

Photo 21 Christmas Tree

Write a story in which an ornament on a Christmas tree tells the story of a different era in time.

21. Handle with Care

Photo 22 Postmen

Write an outline about the adventures of four men, who meet as young postmen during WWII. What are their backstories? Give them features, disagreements, and opposing traits.

22. The Lion Tamer

Photo 23 Lion

Write a character profile of a wealthy 19th century English banker, who was once a lion tamer in a past life.

23. Beauty Mark

CFT003 026251 001

Write a robbery scene that takes place in a popular jewelry boutique in 1960s New York. Is the jewel thief a stealthy shoplifter or a glass-shattering maniac? Does the crime take place at night when the store is closed or during business hours? And how does the robber know the jewelry store owner?

24. War Hero

Photo 24 cod radio room

Write a scene where an undercover WWII American sneaks into a German radio room to send a message that could prove fatal to the enemy — if he isn’t caught.

25. Hotel of Haunts

Photo 26 Hotel

Write a flash fiction story from the point of view of an owner of a hotel that is famous for being haunted by characters from the Roaring Twenties.

26. Let’s Shake On It

Photo 25 new car

Write a story about a man who purchases a 1920 Ford Model T and discovers that the car has a life of its own.

27. Baskets, Anyone?

Photo 27 Baskets

Write a story about a 1980s New Yorker looking for adventure, who purchases a basket from an eccentric city merchant and discovers an item inside that takes the character back in time to 15th century Scotland.

28. Poker Face

Photo 29 card game

There’s no rules in this card game. Describe the high stakes for this card game in 1800s England. Does the winner wind up wishing he had lost?

29. The Diner

Photo 30 Diner counter

Write a story about a drifter passing through only to stop at a lone 1940s diner to get some lunch, but unintentionally ends up staying much longer than expected.

30. A Man’s Best Friend

Photo 31 Motor Car Dog

Write a story about a boy and a stray dog and their many adventures as a famous motor racer in 1920s America.

31. Dear . . .

Photo 32 Letter Writer

Write a letter from the point of view of a solider writing to his family during the Vietnam War.

32. Once Upon a Time

Photo 33 book

Write a story about a contemporary novelist who physically appears into his Victorian England drama and falls for his female protagonist.

33. The Kiss

Photo 34 kiss

Write a love story about a female WWII veteran who saves a fireman from a burning movie theater in 1940s New York.

34. Cabin Fever

Photo 35 Pioneers

Write a story of a pioneer family from the city starting their new life on the Oregon Trail in the 1800s.

35. Under the Weather

Photo 36 Cat

Write a story about an underrated scientist that turns out to have better ideas than most of his colleagues in 19th century Germany.

36. Summer Dreams

Hospital sisters picnic beside the Katherine River, Northern Territory / Arthur Groom

Write a story about five teenagers who first meet at a summer camp, and how their lives continue to intertwine throughout the years in 1950s Florida.

37. Fore!

Photo 38 GolfGame on. Write a scene in which two enemies learn to become best friends in a game of golf in 1920s Virginia. Are there any bets being made? Why do the two boys appear so mischievous?

38. Fort Knox

Photo 39 Forts

Write a diary entry of an infantry solider in the Revolutionary War who is on guard at his post when there is a sudden attack on his fort.

39. The Rogue

Photo 40 Men Drinking

Write a character profile of a wayward Englishmen who treats the rules of proper Victorian England society like it’s a game.

40. The Highwayman

Motor Car

Write a scene in which the passengers of this motor car are stopped by a mysterious rider in the 1920s English countryside.

 

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27 comments

  1. I really like all these Ideas. The thing is, I am creating a book that mainly focuses around the age of piracy, age of exploration, and industrial revolution.. so around the timeline 1740-1800. I seem to have trouble on trying to recreate a “Similar” historical plot to that of real life.My main character Jack ater, the son of the infamous pirate allen ater, recently moves to London around the time line. From there I plan on him becoming a vigilante of some sort. I just want a bit of guidance to help me get on the right track.

    1. I think you’re a dumbass. History can be a good way to learn about something, it also can show us future generations how to prevent specific events. Donald Trump is a orange dumbass. The only history that will be written about that racist orange bigot would be how he imprisoned immigrant kids and killed millions of diverse and beautiful people and so many religions so his white supremacist era could be successful.

  2. This is amazing! These ideas are so creative!
    LOL I am going taking a “Creative Writing” elective in school. I am definitely going to base one one my stories on these prompts. Thanks!

  3. i’m writing a fictional chor story about how derek chauvin is a hero and need advice.
    Is murder heroic if it was on an evil person?
    Thanks!

  4. very good suggestions. Not exactly what I am looking for but provides ideas for possible themes.