Historical Fiction Prompts

… or story prompts, written and curated by me, Dr. Barbara Ellermeier, a historian and author. With my writing prompts, you can use the original historical material to conjure up the world of the past. I publish exclusively to my newsletter, The Idea Catapult, on Tuesdays. Some of those articles appear below a few weeks later.

Berlin. It’s summer 1945. The war ended on May 8. In this setting, a group of British ladies arrives. Protected and guarded by British male soldiers, they are wandering around like tourists in the shattered city of Berlin. Describe what they feel. Whom they meet … View the prompt

Lavender & Provence belong together – since forever, right? No. Actually, these purple plants were only imported to the region at the end of the 19th century – no earlier. 

But why isn’t there a novel about the liquid gold that made so many perfume créateurs astonishingly rich? A novel that tells the stories of the people who worked so hard to cultivate these plants? Receive the writing prompt.

1600-1650: What Sickness Could Your Protagonist Suffer From?

Are you in need of an illness, sickness or some other form of human pain — and your novel is set in Elizabethan England? This extensive digital database provides an extraordinary insight into Elizabethan society. It can be a useful source for any novelist who wants to write about early modern England.
Choose from 85,000 medical consultations, held between 1596 and 1634, right here.

Want a new writing prompt every Tuesday?


»Accidents and distempers, amputations and worms«
In 1702, John Moyle has served as a sea surgeon in the navy for almost 40 years. Now old, he decides to write a how-to manual on practising surgery on a ship. His book »CHIRURGUS MARINUS« covers the most common diseases or wounds that sailors around the year 1700 A.D. might have suffered from. Therefore, it is an ideal resource for your seafare novel.

Write about Food in Iceland 
Iceland – the Nordic country first came to my attention when I read Hannah Kent’s breathtaking novel BURIAL RIGHTS. Now, I discovered an amazing source with hundreds of historical recipes from Iceland. Browse the selection here, and write a scene.

Write about Australian Food in the 1860s 
Battered kangaroo brains cooked in emu fat, anyone? Discover the best resource I know for authentic Australian recipes. Then, write a scene in which your protagonist prepares a TYPICAL Australian dish.

Why Isn’t There a Novel About a Ganerben-Burg Castle?
A castle divided between multiple families … wouldn’t that be the perfect setting for a novel? Imagine: 3 to 5 different families, trapped in a confined space, sharing the same rooms, each and every day. It’s time for internal hostilities and atrocities. Conflict is inevitable. A very special setting that allows you to narrate a very special situation.

Write about Food from the German Democratic Republic
Many childhood memories are connected to food — and those special foods cannot be bought any more. But what if you suddenly discovered them? Write the scene.

1945. A Dance with the enemy?
It’s the end of the fraternisation ban in post-war Germany. Couples who have met and like each other, are *finally* allowed to meet officially for an evening out together. Narrate how a couple – a British soldier and a young German woman – who have just met, date for the first time.

A few notes on how it works

These prompts inspire you to write very special (or very typical) scenes from a particular era.

1. You could write them as a rehearsal, to see if you’re truly interested in writing 400+ pages about this setting and time.

2. Or you could write them, and weave them into your novel.

Essentially, you invent the protagonists – I bring the historical background information. 

When working with the Historical Fiction Prompts, there are again two options. Have a look at the people shown in the image/film/footage or photo mentioned in my prompt, and choose one of them as your protagonist. Or if you already have your own protagonist, use him/her! Imagine them taking their place in the setting that the prompt provides. Put him right in the middle of the action. Imagine your chosen protagonist being confronted with the historical incidents.

Narrate what he encounters. Confront him or her with the unfolding situation.

Utilise the original historical material to conjure up the world of the past.