Creative Writing Prompts Inspired by Historical Events

creative writing prompts

Creative writing prompts inspired by historical events.

Today’s prompts include selections from the book 1200 Creative Writing Prompts. Enjoy!

Nonfiction writers are obviously inspired by the real world, but fiction writers and poets also take inspiration from real people and events.

Wars, scandals, scientific advances, and famous figures in history have all been represented in every form of writing.

Works of fiction that resonate best with readers contain a kind of truth, a reflection of our own real experiences. That’s why looking to the events of history for story ideas is a great way to inspire a writing session. And of course, poetry takes inspiration from everything in the universe. While personal experiences may be more popular sources of inspiration, some incredible poems and stories have been triggered by real events throughout history.

Today’s writing prompts come from major historical events. These prompts are for writing inspiration only and are not meant to be a comprehensive list of big events from history. They were chosen at random for their potential for igniting creative writing ideas.

Writing Prompts

You can use these creative writing prompts to write anything you want — a poem, a short story, a blog post, or a journal entry. The idea is to find the prompt that speaks to you and then start writing.

  1. In a country that rants and raves about freedom, the government decides that its people should not be allowed to drink liquor. Write a story set during Prohibition in the United States.
  2. The Great Depression filled the space between America’s Prohibition (which was still in effect during the Depression) and World War II. The Depression affected the entire world. Well-to-do people lost everything and found themselves standing in food lines. Ordinary people went to extraordinary measures to get a meager meal. Meanwhile, someone, somewhere profited.
  3. World War II gave rise to what journalist Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” Create a cast of compelling characters and write a story showing how circumstances forced them to become great.
  4. The entertainment industry boomed in the twentieth century. Technology changed entertainment from an attraction you paid to see in a theater or other public setting to something you could enjoy from the comfort of your home. Every home had a radio. Black-and-white silent films evolved into Technicolor talkies. Now we have the Internet. Write a story centered on entertainment technologies of the past.
  5. Spaceships, planes, and men on the moon: We started out traveling around on foot. Then some clever Neanderthal invented the wheel. Now, we soar through the skies and tear through space. Write a story about a long journey set in an era when planes, trains, and automobiles weren’t readily available.
  6. The 1960s gave us Civil Rights, Woodstock, and the space race. What happens when a nation’s people are divided? What happens when minorities of people are oppressed? What happens when ordinary kids decide they don’t want to grow up and become just like their parents? Mix in the fact that there’s a war nobody understands and most people don’t believe in. Add drugs, flowers, and peace signs, and you’ve got the sixties. Write a story set during this iconic decade.
  7. Write a story that is set around the assassination of an important, benevolent, historical figure: for example, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, JFK, or John Lennon.
  8. Revolution could be defined as a war between a state and its people. Revolution often occurs when people are oppressed to the point of mass suffering. Choose one such revolution from history and write a story about the people who launched it.
  9. Throughout history, people have emigrated across land and ocean. Choose a time period of heavy human migration. Then choose a starting place and a destination and write the story of a character or group of characters who take the voyage. Focus on the journey, not the place of origin or the destination.
  10. The 1950s are often painted as a simple and idealistic time in American history. One income could support an entire family. Jobs were plentiful. Moms stayed home with their kids. Divorce was scandalous. Write about a protagonist who didn’t fit the mold, whose life was difficult because of the cultural and societal conventions of the time.

Good luck with these creative writing prompts! Have fun and don’t forget to come back and tell us how they worked for you.

Got any writing prompts of your own to share or add to this list? Leave a comment.

Creative Writing Prompts

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.


11 Responses to “Creative Writing Prompts Inspired by Historical Events”

  1. Great ideas for prompts. I’ll be stealing these for my Creative Writing class. Here’s one I came up with for a poetry class I’m teaching this summer. Feel free to try it and give it a more thorough explanation here, if you like it. essentially, the writer goes through his or her twitter feed or Facebook status updates and writes a list of the interesting verbs and nouns, then puts them together in interesting ways to form found poetry or story ideas. Here’s the list I came up with:

  2. Ekaterina says:

    Almost every time when I read scientific news I get ideas for my book set in far future. Or when I look at space pictures from Hubble. Sometimes I simply can’t enjoy reading the articles itself – ideas, ideas are coming! 🙂

    • I know the feeling! I was researching outer space just this weekend. Sometimes, I get so many ideas, it takes me a few days to work out which ones I should use!

  3. Debbie says:

    I found this very interesting. Woodstock caught my eye because although I was not there the music is from my generation. My mind is overflowing with possibilities………….

    • Ooh, cool. Woodstock was before my time, but I’m fascinated by the Woodstock culture. There are definitely stories to be told there! Good luck with yours!

  4. Kelvin Kao says:

    And isn’t it convenient that history just repeats itself? 😉

  5. Roberto says:

    I suppose it could include events in one’s own life? Pretty potent events inspired my entry into fiction.

  6. Jesse Byron says:

    Speaking of cultural movements, does it seem to anyone else that America has entered a sort of
    post-Romantic era?

    • This is from Britannica: “Introspection was inevitable in the literature of an immediately Post-Romantic period, and the age itself was as prone to self-analysis as were its individual authors.”

      I don’t think I’d use that description to describe what is happening in America right now. I would call this a divisive era. Dark, dystopian works seem to be popular juxtaposed against commercial art that could be construed as shallow or meaningless (Hunger Games v. Fifty Shades). In fact, one might say that there is a struggle between materialism and meaning. We could also call it the post-technology age, where we are challenged to adjust to a new system in which we rely heavily on technology and it has cost lots of jobs.

      What a great question, Jesse. It’s given me much to think about. I do believe we are on the cusp of some new era. We live in fascinating times!