Ideas for writing prompts for historical fiction

Written by trevor talley
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Ideas for writing prompts for historical fiction
Writing within the bounds set by a historical fiction prompt helps expand a writer's imagination. (antique typewriter keys image by Tammy Mobley from

Historical fiction is a genre of writing that uses human history to provide a context or backdrop for a fictional story. Writing historical fiction can be both an enjoyable pastime and an incredibly useful tool to expand writing skills for writers of any level. Creating prompts for others to write historical fiction generally involves picking a time, place, character, driving action or some combination of all four and having the writers create a story within that frame.

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Simple Historical Fiction Prompts

For historical prompts, you should think of a place and time in which your students can set their story. For a simple prompt, keep this within commonly known places and times that will be recognised by your students. You can also choose to leave the setting open-ended by instead focusing on a certain type of character and situation that could be applied to any setting or time, such as giving your prompt character a time machine to go to any time period. You can also combine these methods by choosing a well-known time period and picking a person in that time with a common occupation as the focus for the prompt. With simple historical fiction prompts, you should make the activity accessible to any student.

Ideas for Simple Prompts

Ideas for simple historical fiction prompts should come from popular or commonly known times and places in history. Some settings for simple historical prompts include New York City in the roaring 20s, Japan during the samurai ages, the Antarctic, Europe in the Middle ages, prehistoric times when dinosaurs still roamed, the wild American west, or France in World War II. The idea is to give students something they already know to expand upon. Some character and situation ideas could be a president who has been newly elected to office, a taxi driver in a big city, a scientist in an age of scientific advances or a soldier in a war.

Ancient Rome is an easy and common setting for simple historical fiction prompts.
Ancient Rome is an easy and common setting for simple historical fiction prompts. (Roman colloseum image by Minx from

Advanced Historical Fiction Prompts

For more advanced classes, simple and cliché prompts will not provide the level of critical thinking you desire from your students, nor will they be engaging to students who have already gained some writing skills; you need to get a bit more creative. Set your prompts in less well-known places, or in time periods that are not as commonly discussed. Be careful not to get too obscure; you don't want your students to have to do a huge amount of historical research, but you do want to get their minds thinking outside of clichés and stereotypes. For characters, shy away from the obvious as well, unless you can support it with an interesting setting.

Ideas for Advanced Historical Fiction Prompts

Set up a situation that will force students to think from a new, unexpected perspective without getting so specific as to make the writing impossible. Some examples for advanced settings are the founding of culture in Mesopotamia or Central America (think Mayans, Aztecs), a lesser-known front in a famous war such as South Africa in World War II, British Canada at the founding of America, and so forth. Characters for advanced prompts could include a despot on the run after being recently deposed, a westerner lost in an eastern country in the 1800s or an atheist artist in a religious age. Be creative and set up the prompt to really engage the advanced writer's imagination.

Ideas for writing prompts for historical fiction
Writing from the perspective of a lesser-known culture can be rewarding for advanced writers. (Pre-Colombian Bird image by Astrid from

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