Story Ideas from History and Dreams

So I keep a note on my phone called “story ideas” that I just fill with different ideas as they strike me. Sometimes these are from dreams, often they are from books or history podcasts, some are just thoughts that come to mind that I have to get down on a page /right then/ or I’ll forget them!

Numerous of these scribbled ideas have turned into future stories. I had the idea for Most Horrible probably…a year and a half before i actually started turning it into a one act play? The entire concept of “Big Dave’s Goliath” came from a simple fact I had scribbled down- that various popes had ordered the removal of all the penises from the nude statues in the Vatican museum. When I came across the call for submissions for “Big,” which asked for stories around something or someone gargantuan, the idea of a giant replica of Michelangelo’s David, and the shenanigans that ensue when someone vandalizes the statue by cutting off its genitalia, came into being. True, it’s totally absurd (and that story was HIGHLY influenced by the over the top style of Carl Hiaasen), but it was really fun to write! And now it’s published in Colp: Big. :)

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

Here you can see notes on one of my history story ideas and one of my dreams!

The Caterer and the Vanguard (current work in progress) both were inspired by historical legends chronicled in “100 Cats Who Changed Civilization,” by Sam Stall. John gave it to me last December just as a fun gift; he had no idea what it would lead to! Hah. I have numerous other ideas for the AntiquiCats series originating from that book and other cat history sources online.

Here’re two snippets of my current “story ideas” note, featuring a few of my favorite ideas.

So Leichenhauses were WAITING MORTUARIES for people who were scared of being buried alive (circa 1800s). After death, the bodies would be set out and have like, strings tied between their bodies and either a bell or a harmonium or whatever. Then someone would sit up with the bodies and listen for movement noises. Bodies actually move a lot while they’re decomposing, so it must have been quite frightening! They were also viewed as a common tourist destination? It sounds utterly fascinating. I REALLY want to write a story set in one at some point and just haven’t found the right plot yet. I first heard about these from the brilliant Stuff you Missed in History Class podcast called “Not Dead Yet - Safety Coffins and Waiting Mortuaries.”


I’ve also gleaned several ideas from a book I’m currently reading - Black Tudors, by Miranda Kauffman. It’s very good but very dense and academic, so I’ve been reading it off and on for MONTHS. I’ll finish it some day.

Womenless Weddings Used to be a Thing

When 'Womanless Weddings' Were Trendy, By Linton Weeks, June 16, 2015 - 

So it definitely used to be a trend in the 1800s and early 1900s to hold fake comedic male-only weddings as fundraisers for charity (they hung around a bit in the latter half of the 1900s but they're pretty rare now). You can read more at the link below about them - it's a pretty straightforward article - but this part toward the end of the article really stuck out for me.

"So, when all the 'I do's' are said and done, what were womanless weddings all about? In his book, Friend suggests that the womanless wedding was a "ritual of inversion" created not to undermine, but to reaffirm community values.

Photo from 1918, in the Public Domain.

Photo from 1918, in the Public Domain.

'In mocking the very ritual they found most central to communal stability,' he writes, 'organizers and participants in womanless weddings raised questions about the society in which they lived. In the play, they called attention to real social change and its effects on marriage.'

But, Thompson adds, 'even as it reversed and violated the ideal, the womanless wedding replicated and buttressed reality.'"

You can find a lot of videos of these on YouTube, including one below. 

It's definitely...something. The NPR article ends with Stephanie Coontz (writer of "Marriage: A History") opining that they're out of fashion now because they're not very compatible with a society that now accepts same-sex marriage. The counter argument to that may be the existence and wide acceptance of drag queens in LGBTQIA culture. I guess the distinction is that 1. I don't know the statistics but I imagine the vast majority of drag queens or kings are at least accepting of LGBTQIA people, if they don't identify as part of that community, and 2. People participating in "womenless weddings" may not have been. Perhaps it could still be a thing in the right context, time and place, but I can definitely understand why it's gone out of style now.

On the History of Surnames Themselves

"After the Norman invasion, old Saxon customs, including those regarding names, were replaced with Norman ones. Populations increased and larger cities grew while the list of possible first names was quite limited, resulting in confusion and the increasing need for some other means of identifying individuals. Surnames therefore became more common in thirteenth and fourteenth-century England. Adding to the necessity of more precise names, the state began to require a way to identify and regulate its citizens. Kelly argues that early naming conventions also developed as a way to shape and structure citizens’ lives to correspond with the dominant culture, a purpose which is still extant today.


The use of surnames was quite flexible and inconsistent until the 1500s, however. Names themselves were chosen by the bearer, sometimes according to local laws. A 1465 law, for example, dictated that every Irishman living within specified districts should 'take to him an English surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trynn, Skryne, Corke, Kinsall; or colour, as white, black, brown; or arte or science, as smith or carpenter; or office as cooke, butler.' Names changed quickly and easily through the fourteenth century, and reflected a person’s trade, personal and physical characteristics, or residence more often than their paternity. As a result of this flexibility in name choice, members of the same family would often have different surnames, and those names would frequently change throughout one’s life. John Smith could have a daughter named Maude Weaver and a son named Henry Short, who may also be known as Henry Hill if he lived on a hill, or Henry Johnson as the son of John.

Surnames gradually began to be hereditary in the fourteenth century due to state registration of citizens requiring more naming consistency. As Kelly points out, many of the common English names of today reflect important functions of fourteenth century life. Yet surnames were not universal or firmly established in all parts of England even by the early 1700s. Indeed, the British royal family itself had no surname at all until 1917 when they adopted the name Windsor, apparently as a means of distinguishing the family from the Germans during World War I. Surnames, therefore, developed out of a combination of 'custom, convenience, and law.'

The surnames of women in particular have not been well documented, which essentially writes females out of history as their ancestry is so difficult to trace. Evidence suggests, however, that girls were given names such as Alice Tomsdaughter, but these names were largely lost in time because English custom developed such that women tended to adopt the surnames of their husbands. Yet it is also clear that there were exceptions to the norm; historically, if the wife inherited property, then her husband and children would take her last name in order to attach themselves to the estate. Tuttle argues that the purpose of this was to ensure that the family and future generations might be “deluded” into believing in the consistency of the male line. With time, however, the law imposed further restrictions upon women’s ownership of property, so that eventually only males were permitted ownership by law. This effectively ended the practice of men taking their wives’ names at marriage.

Although westerners tend to think of our naming structure as set in stone and as representing the only reasonable approach, not only did these structures vary within our own culture over time, but worldwide many other practices have abounded. There are still no surnames at all in many non-western societies. “Matronymics,”or the practice of naming after the maternal line, exists in modern Spain, medieval England, and amongst medieval Arabs and Jews. Indeed, in medieval England children were often given the names of their mothers, or assumed them voluntarily, even when they were not illegitimate. In some cultures, surnames are narrative and are neither patrilineal nor matrilineal."

Excerpted from: Deborah J. Anthony, A Spouse by Any Other Name, 17 Wm. & Mary J. Women & L. 187 (2010),