A Place in the Past: Reading and Writing Historical Fiction

Fall Open
Class Standing
Kristin Coffey
Steven Hendricks

“The past is foreign country; they do things differently there.” - L.P. Hartley

As one of the oldest subgenres of fiction, historical fiction holds much importance in the literary tradition. In the last several years, we’ve seen contemporary historical fiction narratives experience much success in novels, television, and film. However, for students of creative writing, literature, and history, producing works in this genre is quite the undertaking. It is a genre that requires the knowledge of two distinct disciplines, and furthermore, adroit rhetorical flexibility as well as the ability to read primary sources against the grain.

This is a two-quarter introduction to the genre and craft of historical fiction. During the fall quarter, we will focus on reading and understanding the genre, including its benefits and constraints, as well as the choices writers make in drafting setting, characters, plot, and theme in a historic context. Topics to be discussed also include: generating ideas, developing outlines and research plans; building research skills, understanding primary and secondary sources and basic study in historical archives; creating a historical backdrop and world building, creating authentic characterization and dialogue, and the ethics of telling the stories of others, especially of marginalized peoples. The program will be reading intensive and consist of lecture (including faculty guest lectures), discussion, and writing exercise workshops culminating in the winter quarter with a final project portfolio where students will develop research projects for a draft of historical fiction.  

Central to this program is the scholarly question of the contemporary author’s responsibility to convey authenticity within the borders of fact versus fiction – where their fundamental purpose is reviving a time period and the untold stories and experiences within that history. In this program, we will discuss: How can writing students fundamentally concern themselves with the way the past survives in the imagination? How are writers positioning readers to consider the many ways we make sense of the past and understand the lived experience through historic record? How do we create fiction while acknowledging the difficulty of impartiality as we rely solely upon historic fact to represent the story of all people in the past?


Course Reference Numbers
So - Sr (16): 20001

Course Reference Numbers

So - Sr (16): 10002

Academic Details

writing, history, humanities



In Person (F)
In Person (W)

See definition of Hybrid, Remote, and In-Person instruction

Schedule Details
SEM 2 C3105 - Workshop