You’re looking for historical fiction ideas, and most of the ones you’ve come across are either too detailed and specific or too vague — at least for you.
History writing prompts should paint enough of a picture to allow you to fill in the gaps as you step into it and look around.
Your own perspective and the connections that form in your mind will take that partial image and complete it.
We kept that in mind while creating this list of 51 writing prompts for your novel. May each one flood your mind with the possibilities.
51 Historical Fiction Writing Prompts
If you’re racking your brain for interesting historical events to write about, check out the following prompts to get those synapses firing. You’ll find everything from civil war writing prompts to famous unsolved mysteries. Dig in and find something to play with.
1. Changing Sides. A slave sent by his master to fight in the Civil War on behalf of the Confederacy changes sides to fight for an end to slavery, not knowing what it will cost the woman he loves. Meanwhile, she risks her own life to protect a friend.
2. Mail Order Bride. Your only support dies, and to survive, you answer an ad for a bride in the midwest. You’re not looking forward to being a stranger’s wife, but something in the letter he wrote you calms your reservations.
3. Circus Fugitive. It’s 1925, and you’ve joined the traveling circus as a clown to hide your identity after being framed for a murder you didn’t commit. A rival performer recognizes you and threatens to expose you but doesn’t. He wants something else.
4. Atlantis Rising. You’re a citizen of ancient Atlantis and one of the few chosen for preservation during the centuries of submersion, thanks to Atlantean technology. You’ll never see your family again. One friend — with secrets — sabotages the plan.
5. Pearl Harbor. You’re one of the pilots in an air fight with Japanese bombers over Pearl Harbor. You spot one going in an unexpected direction and follow it, only to see them kamikaze into the building where the love of your life is working.
6. Equal Rights for All. A friend invites you to a meeting where you decide to join the fight for women’s suffrage and equal rights. Your employer spots you protesting and gives you a choice: distance yourself from the cause or lose your job.
7. Prodigal Daughter. In the 1970s, you ran away from home to see Woodstock and only now, ten years later, are you heading back home, after a brief but troubling phone conversation with your mother.
8. The Speakeasy Scandal. It’s 1923, and you’ve just opened your own speakeasy, limiting its patronage to select members of your community. But one of them is a mole for the local sheriff. He ends up dead in the alley, and you’re arrested for it.
9. Sioux Pioneer. You lose your husband on the Oregon Trail to a wagon mishap and are then abducted by a Sioux tribe. Write a story describing your evolving relationship with the Sioux chief’s (adult) son.
10. No Place for Black Veterans. You’re an orphan who befriends a returning WWII soldier after seeing how the community rejects him because of his skin color. Your friendship attracts the attention of local Klansmen and a neglectful aunt.
11. Undercover DJ. An undercover American WWII soldier sneaks into a German radio room and delivers a cryptic message in perfect German, hoping to alert other Americans to a devious German plot he’s discovered.
12. Haunted Hotel. It’s 1930, and you buy a hotel that just happens to be haunted by the ghosts involved in a very public murder in the roaring 20s. Turns out, plenty of people are willing to pay good money to be haunted by glamorous murder victims.
13. Jack the Seam Ripper. Using an item in your grandmother’s “treasure box,” you go back in time and get a young Jack interested in tailoring and fashion design. But can you really stop him from following his darker impulses when an old lover returns?
14. Poker Face. In 1800s England, the poker stakes are higher than most spectators are willing to risk. You’re the reigning champion until a new challenger hits the scene. Thing is, you’re ready to lose and disappear. But it won’t be that simple.
15. Don’t Forget the Pie. You run a 1940s diner and see all sorts of people, many of whom you only see once. Everyone who tries your pie wants the recipe, but it’s a closely-guarded family secret. One customer offers to work for a month to get it.
16. Dear Jane. Your sweetheart is a Vietnam soldier who just broke up with you in a letter. You do some digging and find out he’s left you for one of his fellow soldiers, whose fiancée is the same best friend who comforted you after the break-up.
17. Once Upon a Drama. You’re a novelist who wakes up in Victorian England and meets your own characters. While rooting for your favorite two people, you don’t expect to fall for one of them. You definitely don’t expect to tell them about it.
18. Ever Since Summer Camp. Five teens meet at summer camp and bond together in response to a tragedy. Their lives continue to intertwine as they grow up in 1950s California. One of them shares the secret that binds them, and lives fall apart.
19. The Stolen Child. As part of a time-traveling detective couple, you’re excited about your next assignment in Germantown, Maryland: the kidnapping of Charley Ross — a mystery that remained unsolved.
20. Darkness in the French Quarter. In the early 1880s, your connections with the New Orleans aristocracy leads you to a beautiful Creole woman, Madame Delphine LaLaurie, who has been torturing and murdering the slaves of her household.
21. Road Trip! Lewis and Clark plan for the Oregon Trail. They talk about hardships they expect, people they’re leaving behind, and what each one most hopes to gain. Your main character is a jilted lover who hatches a plan to stop the expedition..
22. Special Delivery. He delivers milk. She delivers newspapers. They cross paths when they both witness a mugging in 1920s Chicago and intervene to protect the victim. The supposed “victim” then offers them both a job with a hefty payoff.
23. Nursing History. You pay someone to help you explore your past and see one of your past lives as a WWII nurse. Your fiancé in that life looks an awful lot like your current boss. You see what you went through together and the child you had.
24. Lost at Sea. A loved one boards the Titanic on their way back home to you. When the ship goes down, they supposedly end up on one of the few liferafts, but they don’t return with the survivors. A year later, they show up at your door.
25. Million Dollar Fling. Ten years ago, you had a moment with a ship’s captain during a 1950s cruise with a group of wealthy socialites you met at college. You show up at a life-changing job interview in New York and come face-to-face with him again.
More Related Articles:
26. American Blood. Your family came to the U.S. after government intervention essentially handed rule in your native country to an organized crime network. A former friend is recruited to their ranks and comes to the U.S. for a business deal.
27. Two for One. You’re waiting in the parlor for your gentleman host, watching the butler pour tea and eyeing a plate of jammy biscuits. You’re here to meet the man your sister wants to marry. So, why does he know everything about you?
28. Jazz Runaway. Two new friends cajole you into joining them to check out a new jazz band. It’s 1930s Mississipi, and you know your parents wouldn’t approve of these friends, but they remind you of someone you lost. What you learn changes you.
29. Voodoo Priestess. It’s June in 1881. You’re walking in a funeral procession while the band plays. In the coffin is your mother, the Voodoo Queen Marie Leveau, and you’re headed to the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, plot 347.
30. Is it Jack or Jackie? A woman named Mary Pearsay is arrested for the murder of a woman and her child. After her death, Ripperologists suggest she may have been the real “Jack the Ripper.” Your investigative partner has a weird fixation on her.
31. Missing, Presumed Innocent. You’re investigating the case of a young English maidservant who disappeared on January 1st, 1753 and reappeared on the 29th, emaciated and weak. Her story of abduction doesn’t match what investigators find.
32. The “Mad Monk.” You’ve just met the man who murdered Grigori Rasputin on the 17th of December in 1916, and he’s only too happy to recount the details. He’s not so forthcoming about why he did it, and you’re determined to find out.
33. Da Vinci’s Muse. The world knows about Leonardo da Vinci but not about the Renaissance woman who inspired him. As one of her descendants, you’re determined to make her known, at the risk of exposing a dark secret.
34. The Invisible Apprentice. Being William Shakespeare’s apprentice would be great if he weren’t always stealing your ideas and claiming them as his own. So, you write a brilliant satiric play exposing him. He loves it and takes it to the stage.
35. Death in the Family. You know who really killed JFK, and it wasn’t that patsy Oswald, who’s already dead. Exposing the real killers would put you and your family next on their list.
36. Nightmares in Heaven. You’re secretly watching Michaelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. You know he’s been having nightmares, which find their way onto the chapel ceiling — before the Archbishop demands he paint over them.
37. Candy Creep. The creator of Sweethearts candies sends you a box “anonymously.” The messages on those tiny hearts reveal more than you want to know about him.
38. Better Half. You’re on a visit to New York in 1977 with your fiancé, and you’re separated when the blackout hits. Write about your adventures as you find your way back to each other — and when you find out where he’s been.
39. Tactical Magic. It’s 1692, and you’re a witch keeping a low profile in Salem, Massachusetts while trying to protect your sister. She’s just been accused by a group of girls after meeting with the minister’s daughter in the woods.
40. The Baby Diaries. You found your mother’s hidden diaries detailing her experiences as a young Black woman in the 50s. Now, some of the things she said and did while she lived make sense. You didn’t expect to learn about a half-sister.
41. Forbidden Knowledge. You wake up in the famous library of Alexandria mere hours before it burns, destroying everything. You witness the arson and stealthily pursue those responsible.
42. Profanely Biblical. At the Nicene Council, Emperor Constantine has booted any bishop who doesn’t agree with his decision on which books belong in the Christian Bible and which should be destroyed. You’re a collector of the latter.
43. Before the Mayflower. On the west coast of Africa, in 1462, you see hundreds of captive men, women, and children being loaded into ships. You ask why and learn the truth as you spot a friend among them. What do you do?
44. The Haitian Revolution. In 1804, Haitians win their independence from French rule. As a Haitian immigrant to the U.S., you openly supported their fight. But when a massacre follows the revolution, you encounter open hostility.
45. More Than Courage. You’re a student at Harvard when the university admits its first Black student: Beverly Garnett Williams. You share some classes with her, and you witness her courage every day. You also witness people’s reactions.
46. Illegal Heritage. It’s the Spanish Inquisition, and your family has converted to Christianity from Judaism to survive. That doesn’t stop the local clerics from harassing you — or your pious neighbors from pointing fingers.
47. Crazy in Love. You’re the last person Marilyn Monroe talked to before she was murdered. And you’re determined to expose her killer. But no one believes the “crazy best friend” — including your doctors at the mental hospital.
48. Model Neighbors. You read your parents’ collected love letters and learn about what they experienced as an interracial couple in the 1960s. They had you before they were forced out of their white neighborhood.
49. Pirate Queen. You’ve been kidnapped by Blackbeard and instead of killing you, he keeps you as a slave. But you have a brilliant plan to take over the ship and become the new pirate captain of the Queen Mary’s Revenge.
50. She’s Indisposed. You’re an apothecary in the 1600s, and two star-crossed lovers have asked you to prepare a potion to help one of them fake their death. You create the potion but get it mixed up with a powerful remedy for constipation.
51. Tele-porta-vision. In 1972, you sit around your English family’s first TV set — a gift from your dad’s new employer. You wake up hours later in the middle of a crop circle nearby, unable to remember how you got there. Dreams tell you more.
Now that you have 51 prompts with cool historical events to write about, which ones make you want to put this aside and start writing?
And what else will you bring to your story to make it uniquely yours?
Pick a prompt, and play with whatever comes to mind. Tell your inner editor to take a nap while you get the words out. This is a time to create.