Must-Read Historical Fiction with Strong Leading Female Protagonists

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March is Women’s History Month, and to commemorate the occasion, this week’s post will focus on historical fiction featuring strong female protagonists.

Throughout history, women have made huge contributions to our world – in science, politics, lifestyle, sports and, of course, literature. It makes sense to tell their stories to showcase their accomplishments. Even fictionalized accounts of real events can bring meaning to today’s readers.

Historical fiction can mean a number of things. It could be fictionalized stories that take place during  true events, such as World War II (Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale), or it could be a fictionalized story of the lives of real people (Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler).

While I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, I’ve read enough of them to compile my list of must-reads. Below are my top choices of historical fiction featuring strong leading female characters. They are not listed in any particular order. In some cases, I’ve included alternates choices.

Do you read historical fiction? Which of the stories you’ve read would you recommend?

* The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale is the story of two sisters who find themselves facing life-changing horrors during Germany’s occupation of France during World War II. Vianne and Isabelle resist the war in ways they never thought possible. Beautifully written and at times heartbreaking, The Nightingale has one of the most poignant and memorable endings. It is currently being made into a movie starring real-life sisters, Dakota and Elle Fanning.

Alternate choice: Winter Garden, also by Kristin Hannah

Set in the year 70 C.E, 900 Jews held out for months against the Roman army on Masada, a mountain in the Judean desert. Historians say only two women and five children survived. Hoffman’s novel tells the stories of four bold and resourceful women, each of whom has come to mountain by different means. It took Hoffman five years to research and write this lengthy novel. Beautifully written but at times painful to read. Be patient; the book starts out slow and meanders in the opening section, but with each women’s story, readers get a view of the horrific pain and devastation that affected so many lives.

Alternate choice: The Museum of Extraordinary Things, also by Alice Hoffman

  • In The Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

    In November 1960, three sisters were found dead near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff in the Dominican Republic. A fourth sister lives however. The sisters, whose code name was Las Mariposas (the Butterflies) were leading opponents of the country’s dictatorship. The story is told through the voices of the four sisters who speak across several decades of their lives up until their deaths. I found the story intriguing and heartbreaking at times.

Set in Charleston in the early 1800s, The Invention of Wings tells the story of the two Grimke sisters, Angelina and Sarah, who became early abolitionists and advocates for women’s rights. When 11-year-old Sarah is given 10-year-old Handful to be her personal maid, Sarah balks. With alternating viewpoints, the story shows how their relationship evolves over 35 years.

Alternate: The Secret Life of Bees also by Sue Monk Kidd  

The only book on my list written by a man, The Book Thief is also set during World War II. While standing at her brother’s grave site, Liesel finds a book buried in the snow, which spurs her love of books. With the help of her step-father and a Jewish refugee that her family hides, she learns to read. Anyone who loves books and reading can empathize with young Liesel who goes to great lengths to spare books from destruction by Nazis. One of the few stories I enjoyed as both a book and a film.

  • Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

    Interestingly, I find this fictionalized account of the life of Charlotte Bronte far more compelling than the original Jane Eyre. The story covers the last nine years of Bronte’s life, her relationship with her father and sisters and how she came to write Jane Eyre.

How to Write Stories That Will Inspire Your Readers

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Now Available! Download your copy of the new white paper, Find Motivation to Start Writing and Keep Writing. Also check out our new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar!  Happy Holidays!

Browse the Internet for “writing inspiration” and you’ll find pages of links to articles that describe how  to find inspiration for writing. But when you put the shoe on the other foot, when you search for articles about writing to inspire others, you’ll find very few articles that address that issue.

How do you create a story that not only engages with your audience, but inspires them? How do you shift the focus from seeking inspiration within yourself to helping others become inspired?

In this season of giving, it seems fitting that we all consider ways to give, share and, yes, inspire others. What better way to do that than through our writing?

If your goal is to share stories of inspiration with readers, here are a few ways to do that.

1. Be authentic. Be real with your readers. Tell personal stories of your own struggles, which makes you relatable. Readers are interested in knowing who you are, your triumphs and challenges, your fears and joys. They want to read about the obstacles you faced in your life and how you overcame them. “All these are common traits in many stories and inspire the reader to do the same with their own lives,” writes Bethany Cadman at Writer’s Life. People want to hear your story because they want to believe that they’re not alone in their experiences.

2. Bring lightness and warmth to your writing. Be personable as if you are having a conversation with a good, close friend. Add humor if it comes naturally to you, but don’t make jokes just because you can, which can come across as forced. It might be helpful for you or someone else to read your story out loud to make sure you’ve captured the right tone.

3. Share a positive message. Think about the message you want to convey, whether it’s hope, love, resilience, self-confidence or courage. Readers want to believe in the goodness in others, and in the goodness of the world at large.

4. Write with emotion. Writing with some emotion – joy or sadness, fear or excitement – can help readers empathize with you because you’ve shown your “realness.” If you’re writing about the death of a dear friend, for example, let readers see and feel your pain and loss. As I mentioned previously, people want to believe that they are not alone in their experiences. The better you are at writing with emotion, the more exciting, exhilarating and inspiring your stories will be to your readers, writes Cadman.

5. Remember why you write. If you ever find yourself at a loss for what to write next or if you’re searching for a story that will make a difference, go back to your “why,” suggests author Julie Petersen at Bang2Write. Think again about why you write and who you write for. Think about what is your passion. When you remember your why, finding the right stories to inspire others will be much easier.

6. Be brave in your writing choices. It’s not always easy to write about deeply personal and meaningful events of your life, but sometimes it’s necessary to heal yourself. Still there’s a lot of emotional pain to muddle through before you can reveal your old wounds. It takes a great deal of courage to step out of your comfort zone to spill your guts on the page, but readers will usually understand that process because they’ve gone through something similar in their own lives. Taking a stand on an issue and speaking your truth can be scary, but despite those fears, it is likely to garner the respect of your readers, more than you know.

Whether you share stories of heartache or of personal triumph, it’s not easy to bare your soul. But when you write those stories with emotion, courage and warmth, readers will respond to you in positive ways. Writing to inspire others is one of the greatest gifts you can share with your readers.

Related Articles:
How to Make Your Writing Inspirational
Breaking Barriers: Inspiring Others, Julia Alvarez