A lone word carved on a pillar of a fort that had once housed a colony of 90 people from 1587 until 1588 or '89 perhaps? Who can say, because in 1590, there was no trace of the colonists who had made the isle of Roanoake their new home. No sign of a struggle or battle could be found, and the local native Americans on the island proclaimed no white men had ever settled there.
Roanoake, or "The Lost Colony" as it has come to be called, is an actual mystery right out of early American history. Many ideas and theories have been put forward to explain the disappearance of the nearly 100 settlers, but no hard evidence has been discovered to say exactly which theory if any is the correct one. As for the word carved in the lone pillar "Croatoan", what did that have to do with anything? Well according to those who'd come to check on the settlers in 1590, a plan had been set in place where that word would be left in plain sight if the settlers decided to pull up stakes and flee to another nearby island. The name of that island was Croatoan (today it is called Hatteras).
But again, there has been no solid evidence found to prove the settlers did indeed go that island. They might have been lost at sea, or changed their minds and dispersed elsewhere. No one knows. Again, it remains a mystery.
So what does this have to do with writing. Two words "inspiration" and "ideas". With an unsolved mystery like this, a writer can have a lot of leeway to build an entire story around what might have happened. Now I was first introduced to the story of Roanoke when I was in grade school. Naturally I was immediately fascinated by the story and kept wondering what might have happened. Of course, being so young I never really did anything with it. But the idea of coming up with an explanation, even a fictional one always stayed with me.
Today, as I've gotten about 3/4's of the way through my second novel, I've finally found a use for this historical mystery. The story does not focus around the mystery or Roanoke, but does utilize it in a very effective manner. Without giving too much away, I'm using a fictional scene of what happened to help demonstrate the power and age of the 'Big Baddy' in my novel. Something that has lasted for over 400 years and is still creating new terror in modern day.
But one does not have to simply rely on unsolved mysteries from history to get ideas. Oh no. History is chock full of events you can focus on or have play a part in your story. Disasters like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York 1911, is another example. According to the records the owners of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, LOCKED and BLOCKED all emergency exits, effectively locking in their workers to make sure they got a full day's work out of them. The conditions inside the factory were attrocious and extremely unsafe. Literally a disaster waiting to happen. And in 1911 it did. A fire broke out and raced throughout the building. And of course with the doors all locked, no one could get out. Many jumped to their deaths from the upper story windows rather than burn.
Now there is no mystery to what happened in that factory, just simple facts. But a writer can build a story around the circumstances leading up to and including such a disaster. It doesn't have to be Triangle Factory fire. A fictional factory or place under similar conditions can be created along with reasons for the disaster. What if it had been done on purpose? Lives sacrificed, but for what reason?
History gives us a lot to work with. You only have to look into a subject that is of interest to you. Maybe it was a rumor or event you read about when you were a kid that always stuck with you. Or perhaps just curiosity or a fascination with a subject you have. Explore that subject through history and see if you get some ideas. There's plenty for us to work with folks.
Until next time, take care and keep writing.
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