As I write this post in preparation for it to go live at midnight, Scotland is voting to determine its destiny. As I edit it in preparation for posting, the votes are being counted, and the outcome is still uncertain.
Even though I’m an American, this vote means something to me. My family has a lot of Scottish ancestry, and my granddad nourished a love for Scotland in me since I was a little girl. The sound of bagpipes makes me smile. The sight of tartans makes me think of fond memories from childhood. One of these days, I intend to luxuriously tour Scotland and soak in all its culture and the touch of ghosts from a history that is in my blood.
So, naturally, I’ve been following the news on Scotland’s vote for independence. I’m not going to try an weigh in with my opinion on whether or not Scotland should secede. That choice is up to the Scots.
However, this moment presents a unique opportunity for authors like me. It’s rare that a peaceful possibility for secession occurs in history--and hopefully, Scotland’s decision regarding its future remains peaceful. Shifting through the opinions on both sides, the international perspectives, and the articles on the campaigns from both the Yes side and the Better Together side provide a wealth of insight for writers.
Too often, when we compose stories, even stories on the scale of nations, it’s easy to forget the simple intricacies of real life. A huge part of the argument against Scottish secession concerns the potential financial backlash for the Scots, the UK, and potentially other parts of the world. Money is a major motivator for humans, and the events of the world have major impacts on economies and currencies. Yet, how easy as writers is it to forget or gloss over such details when writing epic struggles between dynasties, nations, or peoples? Relationships, vengeance, love, loyalty, redemption, and other such emotional conflicts are far more riveting, so they become, as they should, our focus. But we mustn’t forget the background details that impact characters and settings.
Money isn’t the only issue in the Scottish vote. Combing through the news, websites, and comments provides insight into tons of nuances on the issue, and all of them give insight into humanity and the potential zeitgeist of major historical shifts. Look to these moments, whether it’s Scotland or something else, to inform your perspectives when it comes to writing. Dig for the nuggets of humanity, the fears and hopes hidden within the rhetoric of all sides. Study the rhetoric. All of this will deepen a writer’s understanding of human nature, and it will grant authors a better ability to incorporate it into story.
Naturally, we can go back after the fact and study the history. But there’s something unique about witnessing it in real time. There’s an energy that doesn’t exist in history books, and that energy is crucial for a writer to capture when including any similar event in fiction.
Energy, passions, zeitgeist, rhetoric, all of these will give a story life. So look to real life events happening now to glimpse insight that can inform your writing. And at the very least, if looking back to a historical event, research the news of the time and the primary sources such as journals or letters. These are harder to get ahold of, but in the absence of time machines, they offer our best hope of connecting with the energy of a historical even we want to include or mirror in our fiction.
And speaking of Scotland, be sure to join me on Monday for my read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.