by Gail Z. Martin
How can you ever get writers’ block when there’s history? History is the ultimate reality show. It’s the best gossip in the world.
Once you get past the pallid caricatures of historical figures presented in high school textbooks, you realize that the famed forebears who forged history were flawed, broken, selfish, pig-headed, inspired, visionary, brilliant, horny, bigoted, exceptional, obsessive hot messes, and that makes them fascinating.
Need a role model for your character? Ideas for political schemes? Plans to take over the world? History’s got them all. Anything you can dream up has been done, and history is ready to dish the scoop and tell you all about the winners and the losers. Take something that happened in history, twist it a little, add magic or monsters, move it to a different geographic area, shift a pivotal outcome–and you’ve got the basis for a whole new series.
A caveat–history is often re-written by the winners, or they make certain their version of accounts survive and dominate. So it’s key to also look for the holes in the narrative, because that’s where people without power have been consciously erased by those who want to own and control the story. Ever wonder why the narratives we grew up with had few if any women, people of color, LGBT people? It’s because their contributions were intentionally excised from the main narrative. Yet they definitely existed and did amazing things–and you can find this ‘hidden history’ through journals, letters and personal accounts.
Mining history has never been easier, thanks to the wealth of digitized records museums, archivists and individuals are bringing online on a daily basis–much of which is free to access. Photographs, letters, official documents, the census, maps, out of print books, newspaper articles–it’s all there, and it’s a wonder to behold. So many ideas in those yellowed pages!
When I get stymied by a plot point, I research. It might be Googling random ideas and seeing where it leads me, or following links in Wikipedia, or watching something on the History Channel. Inevitably, I find the perfect elements that I didn’t even know I was looking for. It’s magic–and so addictive. Sometimes I think writers write as an excuse to research. Time can get away from you so easily!
Then again, I was a history geek even before I became a writer. I’d still love history if I didn’t write, but since I do, I find it to be my killer app, the Swiss Army knife of writing tools. You’ll never run dry of ideas so long as you’ve got history!
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Here’s an excerpt from Bad Memories, one of my Deadly Curiosities story http://bit.ly/1xigNgz
Read a free excerpt from Among the Shoals Forever, A Deadly Curiosities short story http://bit.ly/TP14YG
Enjoy this excerpt from my novel The Summoner http://bit.ly/1D81sBa
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