How to use history as a guide in writing fiction.

History can be a great tool for writing fiction. You can base settings, characters, and events on historical locations, figures, and circumstances. Alternatively, you can use those same ideas to invent places, people, and episodes. Some of the best stories I’ve ever read blend historical themes (even inaccurate ones) with the imagination of an author.

My debut novel, Fantastic America, uses history from all over the world to inform the characters of dangers they may face. Folklore, written historical accounts, and oral traditions can provide writers with a rich source of material. This material makes worlds that are at once familiar and strangely different from the world we know come to life.

Even without using a recognizable culture, or direct events from history, authors create living, breathing cultures and plots by applying history to other settings. George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is essentially, the War of the Roses with fantastic elements. Martin chose the characters and events, but the epic fight to obtain the throne is history rewritten.

Art, architecture, and geography also bring depth to stories. Basing those on historical counterparts simplifies a writer’s task to describe settings and other details. Expand, minimize, or extrapolate from history whatever your story needs. Myths, legends, and cultural beliefs, real or imagined can add more layers to the world an author builds.

I’ve built dozens of worlds with a blend of real and imagined inspirations. My story dictates some of my choices, others are only aesthetic in nature. What works for me may not work for anyone else. Finding what fires your imagination, what fits into your work, and what entertains your audience is far more important than matching (or exceeding) what another author has done before.

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