Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On History and Research

It's been awhile since I've posted anything, I know. School starts up for me on September 4th, and I've 3 summer assignments I've only just started.

Inspired by the American History summer assignment I've begun working on (inspiration in the unlikeliest of places, you know?) I decided to post about history.

I don't mean the history of your epic fantasy novel, or the history of our future in your sci-fi book. I mean real world history, chock-full of war, disease, innovation, great and terrible moments. After all, our history is the greatest of all stories -- it's the basis of all literature. A violent peasant revolt in your novel? The French Revolution. A genius innovation that changes the world? Gunpowder, the wheel, paper, the atomic bomb, etc.

 Photo in the Public Domain, found via Creative Commons
History can be turn a boring novel into a rich world. It can be the metaphorical light in the darkness, a spark of inspiration in a dark, meaningless story. Your writing can benefit from the vast resevoir of memory and intelligence afforded by the world around you.
A lot of people hate history -- why, I don't know -- but it can change your life. This isn't some weird event that happened to a bunch of dead people. Perhaps you're related to some of them. Perhaps those people were scared of the future, of death, of the unkknown, just like we are. When you think of history as full of people you can connect to, it's exactly like a book. Maybe you're destined to have others connect to these people too.

Now, I've always loved history, almost as much as I love reading. I most especially love ancient, ancient history in far-off places like Egypt or Rome. But I can appreciate American History a little more knowing I'm a descendent of Robert E. Lee, the general who surrendered to the North and ended the Civil War. I'm also related to Patrick Henry, that famous speaker from the Revolutionary War with his "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech. This makes AP American History next year seem not so boring.

Historical Fiction isn't my style, you say. I'm a fantasy person, a modern romance kind of person, a supernatural fiction fan. What can I learn from the past?

I'm not saying you need to write historical fiction. I'm not saying to limit yourself to this genre, just because I am a history geek. But you can model any character after an ancient, real-life person.

I remember a story about an Egyptian pharaoh who built his capital city out in the desert and tried to do away with all of the old gods and goddesses, instead choosing to force his people to worship just the sun disk, Aten. This caused all sorts of tension with the priests of the old gods and goddesses, who had been at the top of the social pyramid and were now unemployed. This sort of unpopular absolute rule sounds familiar... like perhaps that cliched king in all those fantasy novels?

Think of the creation of the atomic bomb. Such a destructive weapon. We Americans unleashed it on Japan anyways, to end a war. And it caused a whole bunch of other, ethical/medical dilemmas. Was it right? Maybe your novel can benefit from a controversial weapon. Maybe your world can benefit from unlooked for problems due to a political decision.

My point, in this rambling rant about reality, is that researching the past can help any novel. It's not strictly limited to historical fiction. Even modern day romances can include a little old-school history. After all, history is full of relatable characters, interesting settings, and tension/conflict.



  1. I think discovering personal histories is a great resource as well. My grandfather-in-law for example eloped at 18 while his wife was still in high school. If anyone found out she was married, they wouldn't have let her graduate. That sounds like an awesome story to me :)

  2. Awesome post! I ADORE history and I love, love, love ancient history. :) Everyone else hates history, but I always just dive in it! The fascinating part is that people ACTUALLY went through this stuff. And some of that stuff is just freaky and cool.

    My favorite ancient history at the moment is South American and Latin American history, the Mayans, Aztecs, and Incas. But I also love ancient Asian history. Rome's cool too, but I've never been super-duper into Egyptian or Africa. I once was obsessed with the ancient Egyptian queens and that one female pharaoh.

    American History isn't all that interesting to me (maybe cause it just isn't as cool?) but I've recently loved the Roaring Twenties. Those were crazy, fun times.

    Like, J. A. Bennett mentioned, personal history can also be cool. My great-great (-great?) grandfather went through WWI and when he came back from marching through the snow of Russia and being a POW, he found out his wife had left him or something.

    So he remarried and this one night, these two men jumped him (I think his brother was with him but I'm not sure) and he killed one of them I think. Well then he was on the run so he escaped to America where he became a hobo up the Mississippi until he got to WA or MN I think.


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