Using Real History For Fantasy Writing

Fresh Thoughts From an Old Source

One doesn’t have to be a history buff to appreciate the amazing things humans have done over the years. Take a short walk through a book about the Crusades and it’s clear that religion has crashed into politics and war as fiercely in real life as it has in any fiction. In his short quest to take over the entire known world, Alexander the Great did more incredible things than most heroes of fantasy ever have. 

For every known story such as these, there are hundreds of smaller tales tucked away in the many volumes of world history out there today. As writers, we like to believe that our ideas must be 100% fresh and original. The fact is, some of the best sources for our ideas have already happened, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

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Seek Out Interesting Stories

Most of my life I have been interested in the American Civil War. Not necessarily the politics that started it, but the people who were involved. Abraham Lincoln has become a personal fascination of mine, moving me to consume dozens of books about his life. Not just him, but every peripheral character in his life and all of those who inspired him. There are many heroic elements to his life and his story, but as a whole it is fraught with uncertainty, questionable thinking, self-doubt, manipulation, and incredible tragedy. His life is just as amazing as any I’ve read about in fantasy (except he didn’t know magic, of course). 

Lincoln is one of thousands of stories that I encourage writers to find. There are stories like his that can inform the development of your next character in ways that seem real and grounded. Our goal as writers is to connect with real people, or at least have our writing seem believable even when it’s impossible. Using real stories to inspire our own fantasies can do just that.

Go out and find some great biographies about any person or time period which appeals to you on some level, and give them a read. When added to “in genre” reading, nonfiction can provide an amazing insight into real human character and social dynamics. One may find their fiction writing becoming more tangible, their descriptions more immersive, dialogue more genuine, and characters more relatable in good ways and bad.

Of all the sources a writer can use to create fantastic stories, history can be one of the best. 

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