The best historical fiction writing prompts
One of the joys of writing historical fiction is the opportunity to look to the past and ask: what if? What if an English woman suddenly found herself transported through time from mid 20th-century Scotland to mid 18th-century Scotland? What if you could meet the woman behind Johannes Vermeer’s famous oil painting? What if you could talk to one of Henry VIII’s most trusted advisors? All of these stories already exist, of course — Outlander, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Wolf Hall — but there are many more to tell. And hopefully these historical writing prompts will help you do just that!
The possibilities for historical fiction are practically endless — you’ve got an entire world, and the course of millenia to choose your setting from! What really matters is making sure that you are able to include the kind of textual details and references to real-world events that will immerse your readers entirely. That requires research, preparation, and a whole lot of planning. While other genres may give you a little (or a lot!) more leeway for invention, historical fiction readers expect a certain level of rigor from their novels, so bear this in mind in your story development and editing process.
Here are our top ten historical fiction writing prompts:
- A bard falls in love with the monarch who employs them.
- You’re Shakespeare’s apprentice, and he’s always taking credit for your ideas.
- You worked at one of the first printing presses during the Printing Revolution of the 15th century.
- You are a gossip columnist — in 1905.
- Write about a specific time in history through love letters.
- Write a story that takes place in the same building but in two very different time periods.
- Write a story in which the outcome of a historical war went differently.
- Write a historical fiction story about someone working at a company that helped revolutionize early computers.
- The revolution is here — and you’re going to play a crucial role in leading it. (Choose any revolution you like, from any era.)
- A family sit around their brand new radio for the first time after dinner.
Here are some additional resources to help you write historical fiction:
- How to Master the 'Show, Don't Tell' Rule (free course) — Fiction which relies heavily on its setting will require a lot of exposition, but how can you do this well? You want to avoid info-dump. (“Oh Mary! I do so love returning home to our quiet town on the coast of Victorian England, having been injured from my time as a soldier in the Crimean War, 1853-1856!”) Instead, you should be employing the golden rule of show, don’t tell — and our course explains exactly how to do that.
- The Ultimate Worldbuilding Guide (free resource) — While our guide is also used by fantasy authors to cook up entirely new worlds from scratch, this resource provides helpful prompt questions which you can use to shape your research.
Want more help learning how to write a short historical fiction? Check out How to Write a Short Story That Gets Published — a free, ten day course guiding you through the process of short story writing by Laura Mae Isaacman, a full-time editor who runs a book editing company in Brooklyn.
Ready to start writing? Check out Reedsy’s weekly short story contest, for the chance of winning $250! You can also check out our list of writing contests or our directory of literary magazines for more opportunities to submit your story.