Recommended if… you love telling stories, whether they are completely factual or take a creative – even completely fictional – spin on real experiences from the past. Creatively implementing your love of storytelling alongside your analytical skills as a historian can result in any number of things: historical novels, movies, television series, visual arts, new media, and video games.
Requirements… Imagination! If you’re looking to make money, e.g. through a full-time job or freelancing, you should be an excellent writer or artist and able to produce quality work efficiently. Your experience studying and writing about history enables you to develop narrative structures. You can take courses that will help you develop additional writing skills.
Historical Fiction Writing
Creating fiction that is inspired by historical events has been a long-popular genre. In the digital era, the publishing industry has been enduring financial challenges. Bookstores have been closing their doors in the wake of online book sales, and e-books have overtaken print sales through the online retailer Amazon, although print sales are often reported to rebound. The book market is in flux. Increasingly, authors are finding success in having their books published electronically; the lower price point (since there is no cost to print a book) is attractive in the consumer market, and whether they are marketing savvy self-published authors or distributed by a publisher, royalties tend to be much higher than they have been being published in print. For budding novelists, the website historicalnovels.info is an excellent resource. Glen Cravey’s blog History Into Fiction has some insightful articles as well, and many new books are reviewed on Historical-Fiction.com. Fiction authors may find it useful to be part of an author’s association where they will find opportunities to find publishers for their work, conferences to meet other authors, and so forth. Among them are the Canadian Authors Association and the American Author’s Association. See the section on Non-Fiction Writing for further ideas.
Writing for Screen and Stage
Another media for which one can write historical fiction is for films and live theatre. Stage plays have many venues, from theatre festivals (including touring the worldwide “fringe” festivals that invite emerging productions to perform) to community productions to gaining an extended run at a larger theatre. You may wish to consult with Theatre Canada which includes links to various organizations across the country or do an online search for national and local theatre associations. Writing the History Play by Charles Deemer is a useful introduction to the craft using a personal case study as an example.
Historical period films and television series are among the most popular at any given moment. Have a look at dohistory.org’s article on the Process of Making a Historical Film for insights. There are many books and online resources available on writing for screen and stage, so be sure to check them out when you’re starting to learn from those who have already succeeded at this craft. Check out associations such as the International Screenwriters’ Association, the Writers Guild of Canada, and the American Screenwriters Association for further information on the profession.
Video gaming is a booming industry that generates millions and millions of dollars in revenue every year. History has been incorporated in a variety of creative ways in some of the most popular titles: Sid Meier’s Civilization, Age of Empires and Victoria (playing on concepts of empire), Call of Juarez (Civil War era), Tropico (Latin American and Caribbean politics and economy), and Company of Heroes (twentieth-century warfare) are among the most acclaimed strategy-based video games rooted in history. Animation Arena has an article about being a Video Game Writer. Historian Niall Ferguson incorporated historical education into a video game, Making History II: The War of the World, which includes an analysis of the relationship between the violent wars of the twentieth century and the decline of empire. Video games are only as successful as they are playable. High performance (that is, ease of play), keen interest among gamers, and an engrossing plot are essential for a strong game. Today, many personal computer video games are distributed through download, on online platforms such as Steam for example, and thus are accessible and affordable to players worldwide. The biggest consumer market remains systems that can be attached to a television monitor.
Video games are rooted in traditional board games, which still have a significant following. Unlike those who end up working for a software company that develops and distributes games, most board game designers probably do not make a full-time career of it, although you can certainly start your own board game company. Martin Wallace runs Warfrog/Treefrog Games in Manchester, England, which includes complex strategy board games based on history. An excellent resource is the website BoardGameGeek.
If you are a visual artist or designer – or want to be – there are a variety of opportunities to bridge your craft with history. For example, do you love historical clothing? Perhaps your interest can lead you to recreating wardrobes that can be used in film, on stage, or for historical recreations. Painters, drawers, and graphic designers are hired to create art for exhibitions, murals, reproductions, and for the media, museums, businesses, and public venues. Also see exhibition curating for ideas.
While artists can be self-trained, many artists and designers have a formal education. It is common for them to hone their skills and find creative direction via a degree in fine arts or design. Universities and colleges offer programs in costume design, set design, and location management.
Do you have further insights into creative applications of history, or additional information that we can add here? If so, please contact us so we can refine this resource.