Are you writing historical fiction? Do you sometimes need the spark of an idea to move your manuscript forward? I certainly do, so I’m sharing these tips for what works for me.
While writing historical romances, I find inspiration in some fascinating places. Maybe it’s the history buff in me, or maybe my interest in how other people lived years ago, but ideas popped up when I did these things:
My great-grandparents’ family photo. My grandmother, Mabel, is second from the right. This is probably around 1910.
1.LOOK AT OLD PHOTOGRAPHS
Pinterest is a great place to search for the time period and subject you are writing about. Photos from historical societies and history books also provide setting ideas. Family photos are other good places to find gems. I found a picture of a stiff-faced family which sparked the idea for a flashback memory for my heroine. Of course, you need to be sure the scene propels your story forward, but reflecting on a moment which adds important elements to the story can be useful.
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Silverton, Colorado 1905
2. VISIT HISTORIC SITES
A wealth of valuable ideas can be found in old towns and historic districts. I find ideas for the settings of my stories by taking walking tours of places I want to write about. Often, there are guide books available which give intriguing details about the people and their occupations to spark further ideas.
Durango-Silverton steam engine
3. EXPERIENCE LIFE IN ANOTHER TIME
This is truly the best way to get the feel of a bygone era. My stories always seem to involve train travel, and since we love tourist railroads, riding an excursion train is always on our agenda. There is no better way to experience the stench of coal smoke, the grit of cinders, the thrill of the whistle, while relaxing as the train rocks down the tracks. I suggest heeding the “All aboard!” call of the conductor whenever possible.
Someday I hope to try a wagon trail camping trip to experience the trials of the Oregon Trail. Read
Staying at a historic hotel also immerses you in the setting so you can imagine life during a different time…but the beds are more comfortable now and private bathrooms are good additions.
Wyman Hotel and Inn, Silverton, Colorado 1902
4. READ MEMOIRS
Recently, I found an obscure book written by a man who had lived in the area I was writing about. The violence during his time period impressed me, and his use of language was helpful. Reading the man’s remembrances of his early life in New Mexico sparked the idea of adding a raspberry picking adventure to my story. This was authentic to the time and something I hadn’t considered. If you can’t find a memoir through your library, this type of book can sometimes be found in local independent bookstores in a location you’re interested in writing about.
5. SCROLL THROUGH OLD WORD DICTIONARIES
Since a historically accurate novel should contain words used during the time, I found the Online Etymology Dictionary helpful to check when a word was first used. Looking through the word lists also gave me ideas for interesting words to add to my story. Tizzy wasn’t in use during my time period, but scatterbrain and hare-brained were used. I find word etymology fascinating…and sometimes skitter off into too much research.
Click here for Online Etymology Dictionary.
6. BROWSE ANTIQUE SHOPS
Looking through antique shops can give you an idea for an item to add to your story which gives your writing an authentic feel. I like old tea-cups, bottles and cans of items available during your time period, and kitchen utensils. Just a mention of an Arbuckles’ coffee crate can put your reader in the Old West setting of your story.
Arbuckles’ Coffee Crate
Also, printed materials from your era give glimpses into everyday lives if you can find a newspaper or magazine from the time period you are interested in.
Kit Carson Home and Museum, Taos, New Mexico
7. VISIT HISTORIC MUSEUMS
Small towns often have museums which are idea treasure boxes, offering glimpses into the lives of early citizens. Seeing the personal belongings which were important enough to bring to new homes out west reveals the characters of real pioneers. The gift shops often have great books for research.
Thank you so much for stopping by. What tools do you use to spark ideas when you’re stuck during your writing process?
Please share your thoughts and your idea-sparks by commenting on this post. May your day be filled with God’s treasured blessings as you write and/or read a historical novel!