How To Find Inspiration For Great Historical Novel Ideas, by Kathleen Benner Duble
Say you’re interested in writing an historical fiction book for young readers. How do you go about finding an idea that is unique enough to stand out in this area?
There are some great resources for digging up tidbits that can blossom into fabulous story ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:
Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader: Plunges Into History by the Bathroom Readers’ Institute
This book is filled with unique and interesting historical moments that could be the jumping off point to a great manuscript. Each vignette is short and to the point – brief enough for you to read while you’re… (Well, you can guess where I keep my copy!)
What Every 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc, Grader Should Know by E.D. Hirsch Jr.
These books came out about 1995 and cover topics that are appropriate for every grade level through sixth grade. In each one, there is a history section. I used to read these books to my kids while we waited for the bus in the morning. (They hated me for doing this, of course, but it was a boon for me). It was while reading the history section of one of these books that I discovered the fact that Henry Hudson had his seventeen-year-old son on board when his crew mutinied. I was fascinated. How would it feel to be seventeen and watch your world come to an end in this fashion? That became the beginning of my book Quest. Check out the history section and maybe something will spark your interest.
Other possible sources of inspiration for historical novel ideas include:
YOUR OWN GENEALOGICAL PAST
My father discovered that I had 17th century ancestors from the town I was living in, and that my great-grandmother (times 9) had been accused of witchcraft at age ten in 1692. Even more amazing, he found that I was living in a house on land that those same ancestors had owned! From that little bit of information, it was easy to write my book, The Sacrifice. Genealogical research done either by you or your family can be a great source of inspiration.
NEWSPAPER AND MAGAZINE ARTICLES
Many newspapers have regular columns such as “On this date in history”. Check them out. Often, they have some interesting fact that can inspire you. For my story, Phantoms in the Snow, I discovered the group of skiing soldiers called Phantoms (because they dressed all in white and couldn’t be seen in the snow) from a Sports Illustrated article. My husband had read how the soldiers’ training grounds had been turned into a series of huts that you could get to by cross-country skiing. I declined the skiing venture but was happy to write about these fascinating men!
PHYSICAL OBJECTS OR HISTORICAL SITES
Historical sites near me in Boston include Sturbridge Village, Saugus Iron Works and the Salem Witch Dungeon Museum. I am sure there are wonderful ones near you, too. While visiting, you might learn something interesting, and do your research before you even leave! The inspiration for my book, Hearts of Iron, about an iron‐producing town that made anchors for the Navy in a remote mountain village, came from seeing the remains of the village at my husband’s summer camp. There isn’t much left (only a piece of the furnace and a few of the houses) but it was enough to get my creative juices flowing. In researching the town, I found out about a fascinating part of American history – iron producing, which included the forging of the anchor on “old Ironsides”, the USS Constitution.
YOUR OWN TRAVELS
Ever see those plaques along the side of the highway? My mom always made us stop and read them ‐ which as kids, we found incredibly boring. But guess who stops now? On her own? I have found many ideas for historical fiction books on those plaques. Or take a tour while you are on vacation. I discovered the story of the Samson while visiting Nova Scotia with my parents. I learned that this little boat had been used in exploration by Admiral Byrd, served as a museum of polar exploration and been an exhibit at the 1933 Chicago World Fair. So I wrote the historical fiction picture book The Story of Samson.
History surrounds us. It infuses our everyday lives. You just have to open your ears and your eyes to find an idea that will inspire you.
Kathleen Benner Duble’s author website: www.kathleenduble.com
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