Folded Word-Lab: Historical Fiction

A doorway to the 19th century whaling era.
A doorway to the 19th century whaling era.

by Tim Bridwell
author of SOPHRONIA L. (Folded Word 2014)

What is Historical Fiction?

Historical fiction should be historical in terms of setting, but fiction first and foremost. Though actual historical figures often inhabit its pages, historical fiction is not historical biography. The writer should not rely on the story’s historical context to do any of the work for them: There are no substitutes for flesh and blood characters, palpable settings, and a plot that transports us.

Throughout our lives we have been taught to associate historical facts with names, places, and dates. For example if you read the name “Mahatma Gandhi,” the setting “Hiroshima,” or the date “September 11, 2001,” it is likely you will already have a set of images in your mind for each, and perhaps some sort of emotional response.

In this flash fiction exercise, I’ve tried to take easily identifiable characters, locales, and dates out of the story — along with the preconceptions associated with them. The aim is to give the reader a chance to discover the historical context afresh, to envision the characters and settings that you have created, and to ultimately gain a greater insight on the historical event.

Writing Assignment:

  1. Choose a well-known historical event as your subject.
  2. In 500 words or less, write a flash fiction* story about that event, but done in such a way that the reader must discover which event you’ve chosen (rather than being told).
  3. Do not refer to a known historical character by first or last name.
  4. Do not refer to the setting by proper name (region is okay).
  5. Do not mention the year or time period, such as “1776”, “the 1700s,” or “the 18th century.” Instead, give clues to the time period via other information.

*A note about flash fiction:

There are many opinions on what flash fiction should be. Here is my version of the basics:

  • It may be short, but it’s a complete story: It has a beginning, middle, and end.
  • It establishes/develops characters and setting quickly and efficiently: There’s no time or space to spare.
  • It should cover one moment in time.
  • It should provide some insight.


Submit 1 flash fiction (written as responses to this exercise) in the contact form below by 15 May 2015. I will choose my favorite three. The selected stories will be posted on this blog and the writers will receive a free copy of my book SOPHRONIA L. (US residents will receive a print copy, non-US residents will receive an e-copy.) In addition, JS Graustein (Folded Word’s Editor in Chief) will randomly select one story for a mini-critique by the editorial staff.

Results will be announced on this blog Wednesday, 24 June 2015.

3 Comments on “Folded Word-Lab: Historical Fiction

  1. Pingback: Folded Word-Lab: historical fiction results | Folded Word

  2. Pingback: Month in Review: July 2015 | Folded Word

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