A few weeks ago, I wrote a short story entitled Birth of a Vampire. It takes place in Scotland, around 700 A.D., as the last of Paganism was fading from the country. It’s the first of several stories meant to travel with the vampire-Thomas-around the world and through the ages. This series of short stories is going to be my most research-heavy project yet. I’m not dreading all the legwork though-I’m excited, and I’m getting new inspiration every couple of pages.
I believe that everyone should study history, especially writers. History is a study of humanity, showing our patterns and our ways of thinking. More than the names and dates, the people and the places, it says a lot about humanity as a whole. And basic human nature hasn’t changed much-look at how today’s terrorists die readily for their religion, and then look at the Children’s Crusades, where thousands died on the road to ‘save the holy land’.
For fantasy writers, many of us base our worlds-however loosely-off of historical times and places. We should do the legwork to find out what those places were really like before we take them and change them. And history is one of the greatest places to find new story ideas. Human history is full of happy moments and sad moments; it is full of great, liberating revolutions and dirty, oppressive secrets. Reading the bloody histories of our own countries can help us build new ones with suitably bloody history.
If you’re not working on a world or a novel-length project right now, you should study history anyway. Knowing history can only help you in the long run. It’s helpful in a debate, a great conversation piece, and it generally makes you feel smarter. You can study your own country, and it might be fun to try to trace your ancestry. You’ll probably learn a surprising amount about history from the story of your own family. It’ll help you feel more grounded in who you are, give you something to be proud of. (Or not.)But the best part is that history can be pretty inspirational, and you might stumble into a literary gold mine, full of amazing story ideas.
During my research, I’ve already had to stop to write notes for one character and one story, which looks like it’ll want to be novel-length. If you’re not doing research for a specific project, just for your own enjoyment, then you can jump right into a new story. If it is research for a specific project, then you’ll have something new ready and waiting for you when you finish. Just be careful not to start an entirely new project and abandon the old one.
Where to start? In the country where your story takes place, or in your country of origin, or maybe just someplace that interests you. So far most of my research has been in Scotland-where clan Gunn hails from-and the Byzantine empire, the Eastern half of the Roman empire. I’ve got a book about historical England and tomorrow I’m going to start researching early Spain. I’m going to share a couple of my links with you, and if you have any good links about the history of Spain, please do share.
~Heart O Scotland This has been my primary internet resource for the history of Scotland. It’s almost shameful how little I knew about Scotland three days ago, but this site has a pretty good overview of Scottish history and is pretty reliable.
~National Library of Scotland This page has listings for all the old counties of Scotland, and if you click the links you’ll find literally hundreds of maps of Scotland throughout the ages.
~ This is a page dedicated to the history of the Byzantine empire. It doesn’t cover the span of the whole empire-which existed from shortly before the fall of Rome all the way into the fourteenth century-but it’s a good starting point. There’s lots of information all over the internet about the Byzantine empire, and it’s a fascinating read.
What’s your favourite story from your historical research?