Seven tools to spark ideas for writing historical fiction. #amwriting #historical

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 grandmother is second from the right. This is probably around 1910.

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

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

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

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.

 

Antique shops

Antique shops

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

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.

 

Historic museums

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!

Sherida

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24 Responses to “Seven tools to spark ideas for writing historical fiction. #amwriting #historical”

  1. Tina Radcliffe Says:

    This was terrific. I don’t write historical but my husband and I LOVE to go antiquing and find old photos and dream up stories for them and pretend they are old family members. I think he should have been a writer too.

  2. Sherida Stewart Says:

    TINA, thank you so much for visiting! Yes, the writer’s mind can do so much with those old photos. I love them! The photograph of my grandmother is one of my favorites. I wish I knew more about her early life. She had some difficult issues, but I remember most her unique laugh.

    We should talk the husbands into writing. Mine is much better at studying history than I am, but it’s great we both enjoy museums.

    Thanks, again, for everything! I wouldn’t have realized how much I enjoy historical writing if not for Seekerville’s encouragement! 🙂

  3. Tina Radcliffe Says:

    PS. Love your disclaimer: No computers were harmed in the 1.633 seconds it took to produce this page.

  4. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Hmmm…must be something WordPress does. I need to look at that. I think it took me longer to write this post than 27.2166667 minutes. Maybe I’m writing faster after all the practice. 😉

  5. Sherida Stewart Says:

    I found it! Hadn’t seen that before. I’ll be watching how many seconds my next posts require to produce. Strange!

  6. Tina Radcliffe Says:

    LOLOL~

  7. Sandra Leesmith Says:

    Great post Sherida. I don’t write historical, but I basically use the same tools for contemporary. I do need to do research and I have photos and objects around to get me back on track when I’m writing.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Thank you, Sandra! And you use hiking trails for research. Love your story, NEW BEGINNINGS! I felt like I was on the trail in Grand Canyon NP!

  9. Patti Jo Moore Says:

    Loved this post, Sherida!
    Even though I’m currently writing contemporary romance, historical is my “first love” and my very first completed manuscript is historical. 🙂
    Thanks so much for sharing these tips, and blessings on your writing.
    Hugs, Patti Jo

  10. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Patti Jo, so fun to see you here! I bounce between contemporary and historical. Love them both! Thank you so much for stopping by! Hugs and blessings to you!

  11. Tina Radcliffe Says:

    We mentioned you in the Weekend Edition Random News section, Sherida. Because this post is THAT excellent!!

  12. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Thank you SO MUCH, Tina! FUN!!!

  13. Ruthy Says:

    Sherida… I LOVE THIS! I love writing historical fiction, almost as much as chocolate and breathing… it’s so much fun! I have so much respect for how tough and rugged and impassioned those folks must have been, all to gain freedom and land… Of such things great lands are built!

    Thank you for sharing this, and thanks to Tina for bringing it to my attention! THIS ROCKS IT!

  14. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Wow, Ruthy! Thank you for stopping by. Yes, to historical fiction…and to true admiration for those who ventured out to explore and to built this land.

  15. Myra Johnson Says:

    These are excellent tips, Sherida! I have used several of these resources for researching my historical romances. Memoirs are especially interesting because I can read about an era from someone who’s lived through it.

  16. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Thank you, Myra, for visiting my website. As you mention, the memoirs are fascinating. The one I found for my recent story was an outlaw who turned to the good side. He said in those days, you could travel 100 miles away and become a new person. Good for second chances! His word choices were helpful, too.

  17. Laura Conner Kestner Says:

    Great post, Sherida! I’m writing my first historical now (set in the 1880s) but I’ve always been a history buff. My very first blog post (just got my website going 🙂 is about an old two-story jail house that’s now a museum. I could have stayed there all day. I even have to time myself when I’m looking at old newspapers on microfilm or I will read for hours. Loved everyone of your suggestions! Thank you!

  18. Sherida Stewart Says:

    EXACTLY, Laura!!! We can certainly get lost in the research as we find all those treasures! Timing your research allotment is a good idea! 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping in for a visit! Blessings to your writing!

  19. Janet Dean Says:

    Excellent tips, Sherida! Besides giving us story fodder, all these activities enrich my life. I love history.

    Janet

  20. Sherida Stewart Says:

    Janet, thank you for visiting my blog! You are right about the activities being fun additions to our lives. It’s great to now have writing as an excuse to visit more museums….and more stays at historic bed and breakfasts. Fortunately, my husband enjoys history and old hotels…especially the old steam train excursions.

  21. Janet Dean Says:

    Tina, we have some photos of my husband’s ancestors hanging in the unfinished part of our basement gathering dust. I used to display them but my dh felt like they were staring at him. LOL So we’d be happy to send them and you can pretend they’re yours. 🙂

    Janet

  22. Sherida Stewart Says:

    LOL!

  23. Janet Dean Says:

    Sherida, we’ve taken the train from Durango to Silverton and loved it! I walked between the cars when the train was moving, my idea of risk taking. LOL

    Janet

  24. Sherida Stewart Says:

    That is one of our favorite trains. We even get the season pass some years. 🙂 You are brave to walk between the cars…even LOOKING out the window on the High Line cut makes me nervous…but I do it because I don’t want to miss the incredible view.

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