Two interesting things happened to me in the past two days to inspire this post. First, I was invited to speak on a panel at Denver Comic-Con this coming weekend. The panel is entitled: What’s with all the remakes anyways? (Hollywood, Comics, and T.V. have been digging into the past for a lot of recent releases. What does this mean to the modern writer? How does it impact the modern creative professional and how do we break the trend?). Second, I was recently asked in a blog interview (to be posted): In my experience, some of the best fiction is based on facts and history. How do you build your research into your fictional works?

At first glance, these two subjects don’t appear to be closely related. However, as my series, Legends of Amun Ra, is inspired by Egyptian mythology and history, I can see a relationship here. That relationship is best illustrated by the way I answer this common question: “What are you currently reading?” Most people would be surprised to learn that I read almost twice as many nonfiction books as I do fiction books. Don’t get me wrong, reading fiction books as a writer is helpful for the craft of writing, but it won’t inspire you or give you that million dollar idea for your own series. For that, you need to explore nonfiction. A few examples of authors who have successfully leveraged ideas inspired by nonfiction are below:

  • Frank Herbert, author of the critically acclaimed and genre-defining series Dune, was a botanist by profession. The idea of water conservation which inspired the Dune series was a result of his scientific research of plant life.
  • J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, titled her first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which is an allusion to alchemy, the sacred magic of the Egyptian god of wisdom, Thoth. For those that don’t know, Harry Potter is based on the same Egyptian mythology as my series. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling actually has character Albus Dumbledore refer to a man by the name of Nicolas Flamel. Most people don’t know that Nicolas Flamel was a real person who lived in the seventeenth century, and he was famous for being an alchemist.
  • Steven King’s book 11/22/63 was inspired by the very real event of the John F. Kennedy assassination mixed with a story involving fantastical plot twists and theoretical devices such as time travel.
  • George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Fire and Ice is heavily influenced by medieval Europe, specifically the events surrounding the War of the Roses between 1455 and 1485.
  • Cinda Williams Chima, author of The Heir Chronicles series, is also heavily influenced by the War of the Roses in England. In fact, she even specifically mentions that war in her fantasy series.

The point here is that as writers we must look beyond the current definition of fantasy to create new and interesting ways of telling stories. There is the saying, “There are no new ideas, only new ways of looking at things.” In a way, that’s true. Reading Martin’s series and analyzing what makes him a great writer might help me improve my craft, but I won’t come out of that series with any ideas for my own books.

As I said before, my own series is drawn from Egyptian mythology, but, like all the authors I named above, being inspired by something is not the same as ripping off a real-life event, plagiarizing, or adapting someone’s life story for your own work. You must be inspired by history, but not copy history. The goal should be for you to read a nonfiction book and have a light go off in your head by asking “What if this happened differently?” That’s what great writers do. So don’t be afraid to put down the latest science-fiction, fantasy, or romance novel you’re reading and pick up something educational. You might be surprised—a light might go off in your head and give you a new series to write about.

About Joshua G. Silverman

As a child, Joshua has always been an amateur historian, focusing on ancient Egypt, Greece, and Roman civilizations.

One Response to “The Importance of Non-Fiction for Writers”

  1. nrlymrtl

    Glad to see Frank Herbert on the list – he is a favorite author and his science background truly shows in his work. I will have to check out Chima’s work as I have read a bit about the War of the Roses. Weaving such facts into a work of fiction gives it depth – and for those who know what the author is alluding to, we feel like smarty pants when we correctly ID something.

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