Old Photos for Writing Inspiration

As we wrap up May’s theme of historical fiction, I had one more prompt to spark a story. Since it’s also Memorial Day in the U.S., looking at old photos for writing inspiration seems a fitting prompt for today. Since I’m a character writer, I begin to build a story by understanding my characters first. But before I understand them, I have to find them and looking at portraits is one way that I do that. A person in a photograph with an unusual or intriguing expression will ignite my imagination. Such as the little girl in the lower right hand portrait above. Something about her posture and her expression makes me think she’s a character to discover.

So check out the photos below. Or look at old photos of your own family. Maybe one of them will snag your attention, and you’ll want to know more about that person and the time period in which he or she lived.

For more prompts for historical fiction or writing tips, click here.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Local History for Writing Inspiration

As a history major, I love the idea of using local history for writing inspiration. Many people have used world events and famous people as writing inspiration. But if you dig into the local history of where you live, you might find the spark to tell a unique story.

If you are interested in historical fiction set in America, researching local history at a library where your historical fiction is set will produce resources you can’t find anywhere else.

As a test, I visited a local history room of library near where I live. I’d still be there, trawling through the trove information like each piece was a jewel from a treasure, but I had a blog to type up. Here are some of the resources I discovered.

  • City directories — From 2000 back to 1859
  • Yearbooks of the local college — Going back to 1909. The college library is another place to check for local history
  • Genealogical indexes — These covered two counties
  • Books of the census — Covering one county, these went back to 1835. I also found it a great source for unusual names, such as Justice T. Calhoun, Zelotes Jones, and Ev Narden.
  • Histories of local churches
  • Book published in 1891 — Portraits and biographies of “prominent persons” from the county up to that time.
  • Spooky tales of a neighboring county
  • Index to Common Please Court — These were arranged both by plaintiff and defendent
  • State phone books on microfiche
  • Fiction and nonfiction by local authors
  • Family histories
  • Card catalog with obituaries — How many of you know what a card catalog is? It’s the paper way libraries indexed their collection. This one had cards arranged alphabetically by the last name of a deceased person, often with a newspaper obituary cut out and taped to the card.

The library had another room, locked, run by the county genealogical society, with hours listed when volunteers are available to help researchers.

Researching local history may also take you to old newspapers. The library I visited in Parsons, West Virginia, had the local newspaper on microfilm. While scrolling through an edition from the late 1940’s, I discovered why the bridge I drove across was a memorial bridge. It was dedicated to a sheriff who was murdered on duty. Now there’s the start to a story.

The microfilm was difficult to use and make copies of, so I asked the librarian if any of these newspapers were online. She said they weren’t. My only option was visiting the library.

How can you use local history for writing inspiration?

For more historical fiction prompts, click here.

Family History for Writing Inspiration

To go along with this month’s theme of historical fiction, last week’s prompt asked what time periods you like to read about in fiction. This week’s prompt encourages to look for story ideas closer to home. Delving into family history for writing inspiration, whether it’s researching a family story or learning about genealogy, can give you the spark for a unique story.

One family story that has always intrigued me was one my maternal grandmother told us. One of her distant grandfathers–she wasn’t sure who–had supposedly married a woman who was a Russian Jew and lived in Harrisburg, PA. They had four children, two boys and two girls and were possibly living in West Virginia. The marriage broke up. The woman took the two girls back to Harrisburg, while her grandfather kept the boys. He remarried and had other children. My grandmother didn’t know if we were descended from the children of the first marriage or the second.

This story provokes all kinds of questions. What would it have been like before the Civil War for a Christian to marry a Jew? Had the wife converted? What broke up the marriage? Did the father ever see his daughters again? Did the mother see her sons? Lots of questions here to fuel a fiction story.

Now it’s your turn. What family history do you know that can inspire stories?

For more historical fiction prompts, click here.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑