How to Write Historical Fiction (Beginner)

Monday 23 September
£ 445.00 - early bird discount!

This online creative writing course will help you with the essentials of how to write historical fiction – narrative structure, characterisation, setting, timing, point of view and voice.

Want to start writing historical fiction?


Historical fiction is one of the most popular literary forms and one of the most varied. A historical novel can be a war-story, a romance, a whodunit, a tense socio-political drama, a quest or a pursuit. It can be a tightly focussed personal confession. It can be a wide-angled portrait of an era, with scores of characters (think of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall). It can bring the past to life in vivid detail. It can be a medium through which we view our own society with extra clarity.

If you are setting out to write historical fiction you will want the tools any novelist needs. This online creative writing course will help you with the essentials of how to write historical fiction – narrative structure, characterisation, setting, timing, point of view and voice.

This twelve-week course is ideal for people who have done no formal training or courses who want to learn the basic skills of structuring and writing historical fiction. Your tutor, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, will read up to 5,000 words of your writing, and towards the end of the course you will have a one-to-one tutorial with her to discuss your writing and potential next steps.


Book your space by Friday 12 July to take advantage of our early bird discount!
Start date

Monday 23 September





12 weeks (please see course schedule below)



£495 £445 early bird discount

This course will cover:


  • What historical fiction is and what distinguishes it from other forms of fiction
  • Voice and point of view
  • Where to begin your story and the time period in which it is set
  • Characters, voice and perspectives
  • The way a historical novel can help readers empathise with a past world
  • Tackling taunting topics such as war
  • Your next steps after the course has finished.
Online course

Course programme

Module one – Find your story
In this opening module, you’ll explore what historical fiction is and what distinguishes it from other forms of fiction. You’ll also look at some fundamental questions that you’ll have to answer each time you sit down to write a piece of historical fiction: whose story is it, when does it take place, and where is it set? For your first assignment, you’ll write up to 1,000 words about a public historical event. For every assignment in this course, you’ll also have the option to instead submit up to 1,000 words of a longer piece you’re working on.

Module two – Voice
This module looks at the various forms of point of view and the ways they are useful in historical fiction. You’ll explore the two most popular choices, first and third person, and you’ll also look at narratives that contain multiple narrators. For this assignment, you’ll write a first-person narrative in which someone returns home after a long absence.

Module three – About Time
In this module, you’ll look at where to begin your story, and you’ll explore stories that have non-linear narratives. You’ll also look at the ways in which the time period you set your novel in can effect how much the reader might already know about the way life is going to unravel for your characters. In this assignment, you’ll look back on a turning point in history.

Module four – Work
In this module you’ll look at the ways the roles people have in your narrative help to cement it in its historical time period. You’ll read examples from popular historical fiction in which the work the characters do is integral to the narrative and structure of the novel, and for your assignment you’ll describe the daily working routine of a character in your chosen time period.

Module five – Hearts and Minds
This is a module focused on character. You’ve already begun to look at how perspective can shape a novel, but now you’ll look at the voice of your characters, and how their words, actions, and appearances can cement your reader into your chosen time period. You’ll also look into the minds of the characters and the wider society they exist in, and the ways in which a historical novel can help readers empathise with a past world, or feel alienated from it.

Module six – War
War has been one of the most popular topics for writing for centuries, and in this module you’ll look at the ways in which you can tackle this daunting topic in your narratives. You’ll read excerpts from stories that have war as a central theme, and rather than a final assignment you’ll have a 1-1 tutorial to discuss your writing and next steps.

Live sessions

There will be two live sessions for this course, which will take place over Zoom.

Zoom one: Tuesday 24 September, 6-7pm BST

Zoom two: Bookable one-to-ones towards the end of the course

The tutor was friendly, knowledgeable, helpful, and approachable. Her feedback was always pertinent and helped me to grow as a writer. She often made very helpful suggestions for relevant books to read and ways to develop my writing.

Jilly Shipway

Why study with National Centre for Writing?

National Centre for Writing has been supporting writers to develop their craft for over 25 years. Our online tutored courses are developed in partnership with University of East Anglia, home to the prestigious School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, which boasts award-winning alumni including Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan and Anne Enright. Our course tutors are all published writers, many of whom have studied or taught at UEA themselves.


While there are many online courses available to you across the world, ours are unique in offering:

  • One-to-one feedback on up to six assignments, directly from your course tutor
  • A tailored learning experience with 15 students maximum
  • Flexibility to progress through the course anywhere, any time
  • Support and structure to develop a writing routine
  • Skills and knowledge to improve the craft of writing
  • Confidence in your ability as a writer
  • Opportunity to join our NCW Alumni, an international network of like-minded writers and translators.

Meet the tutor

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of the historical novel Peculiar Ground – described by the Guardian’s reviewer as ‘almost Tolstoyan in its sly wit and descriptive brilliance’. It was shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

She is also known for her historical non-fiction. The Pike, her book about Gabriele D’Annunzio, won the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize and the Costa Biography Award. The Sunday Times has called it ‘the biography of the decade’. Her other non-fiction books are the acclaimed cultural histories Heroes and Cleopatra. 

She is currently working on a book about the 17th century Duke of Buckingham, the favourite, chief minister and lover of King James. Website


Read Lucy’s top tips for finding your voice when writing historical fiction →

The course definitely increased my confidence, and gave me a real passion for continuing my writing. Thank you Lucy for an engaging and helpful course.


How does this course work?

We have partnered with digital learning platform Teachable to host our self-paced courses. The platform is accessible across a range of devices, simple to use, and does not require any specialist equipment.

We want to make sure that you get the most out of our tutored online courses and feel confident that you’re choosing the right course. Each course contains a mixture of teaching content, reading to prompt discussion, writing exercises for you to hone your skills, and group and one-to-one feedback.

Click to read more about how they are structured and what equipment you may need.

Find out more

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If you still have questions, get in touch with the learning team by email [email protected] or phone (+44) 01603 877177 between our working hours of 9am – 5pm BST, Monday to Friday. We’re here to help!

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