An Imaginative History Fiction Exercise from Peter Ranscombe
History can be a rich and fascinating source of inspiration for fiction. As part of the research for Hare—which takes the story of Burke and Hare, Scotland’s most notorious killers, and asks what happened next to Hare after Burke was hanged for their crimes—I delved into the archives of The Scotsman newspaper. Reading primary sources can help writers to uncover tantalising details of historic events or add colour to their stories.
- Pick an historical event – it could be an incident from your home town or a chapter in the life of a figure you admire.
- Carry out research into the event – don’t rely on Wikipedia but instead take a look at the website of a local newspaper to see if they have an online archive you can search. In the UK, we have http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ and a similar resource exists in the US at http://newspaperarchive.com/.
- Select a character associated with the event or person you studied and ask “What happened next?” – in real life, no one knows what happened to Hare after Burke was hanged, giving me the opportunity to place him in Boston during the early years of the American Civil War, when a series of murderers places him under suspicion once more.
- Let your imagination run wild – write about what happened next to the character you’ve selected. It could be what a driver did next after surviving an horrific car crash or what a politician did after losing an election. Try to use pointers from your research to create a plausible tale for what happened next.
- If you really want a challenge then pick a second historical event and see if you can come up with a story that would tie the two events together.
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