Ramblings on the Witch Trials

Cthulhu Scribe by Drew Pocza

I recently drew upon a long list of sources to re-research and refresh my memory about the witch trials. There is a lot of Hollywood-itis associated with what happened in the 1690s and prior to that as well with respect to the Inquisition and whatnot; so the approaches to the topic in general aren’t as nuanced in film as you might find in books. The side effect to research, though, are always more questions and more books to read. I talked a little bit about this before, when I mentioned I was a hobby anthropologist, but it always, always happens when I dive in deep. But here? I can’t think of anything more profound than centuries of routing out heretics, then witches.

Imagine being a naturalist or an artist or even an introvert. People in your town think you’re weird. Maybe the local authorities do, too. You have a family. Wife, husband. Kids. Even though you consider yourself a good Puritan, you have a few folk beliefs. You don’t exactly “fit the ideal Puritan profile” but you’re not self-conscious about that. You don’t have the time to be because you’ve got crops to tend, family to raise, homestead to maintain. You’ve had a couple of family emergencies and had to miss church. The weather has been really crappy lately. For whatever reason, someone in town added one plus six and got two: you’re a witch. You get arrested and you don’t even know who accused you. By the time the Magistrates begin their examination, you think the whole thing is so incredibly ridiculous you make a smartass comment. Because you didn’t respond in the precise modest tone of voice the judges expect — you are stripped naked and examined further for “witch’s marks.” You may be tortured until you confess. While you’re awaiting Trial, you get tossed in jail. That costs money. Your family has to pay for your jailtime. If they can’t, even if you’re found innocent, your house and everything you own is confiscated. Then the Trial starts. You’re up in front of the Grand Jury. Their decision is absolute. Guilty? You’ll hang. Innocent? You’ll be released. Broke, but free.

Part of the reason why I feel the 1690s in particular is great fodder for alternate history in games and fiction, is for the same reason why I’m attracted to the Westward Migration and Civil War–to understand a thing, even if it was horrible, I need to experience it. Then, I share my outlook with players or readers through a creative lens. Sometimes I have word count limitations; other times the point of a story isn’t about the events, but the characters. Either way, when I write alternate history, I’m using reality to ground my worlds and characters much in the way I use futurism to write science fiction. Part of the reason why I can get away with word conservation is because I prefer a more realistic, tangible sense to my worldbuilding. Even if it’s twenty-percent based on reality, then I will have a stack of books beside me to read up on that aspect I’m drawing from.

Alternate history is a lot of fun for me to write, because I get to do lots of research and dive deep into different viewpoints. The challenge is balancing how much history to include depending upon the scope of the project. Some of the decisions I make are impacted by word count, but also the goal of what I’m trying to accomplish. There’s a huge difference between writing to accurately represent a time period–which in my mind steers more toward non-fiction or fiction without supernatural elements–versus writing for suspension of disbelief. The minute vampires enter into a historical setting, then that changes the landscape.

In the end, I’m not looking to be precisely historically-accurate because that’s not my job. I’m not a historian or a history professor. My role as a writer, as a game designer, is to write stories and design games for your entertainment. To do that, I feel any time I dive into alternate history I have to do my homework to understand what really happened from multiple viewpoints before I can fictionalize it. This is how I fall in love with the work. And, if I’m not in love with what I’m doing? Then I suspect you won’t be, either.

Did I “fall in love” again with the witch trials? Well, that project’s still in development. When it’s released, though, you can be the judge.

No pun intended.

    Mood: I am zen.
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Addiction managed.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 40 words a minute
    In My Ears: Wax
    Game Last Played: Battle Nations
    Book Last Read: The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch
    Movie Last Viewed: THE AWAKENING
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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