Sickness, spreading rampant, infecting the hot, moist, bodies through certain smells carried in the air; to keep from getting sick, one would hold a bundle of strong smelling herbs, like rosemary or lavender, to his or her nose; if bad luck falls on a person, whether royal or common, rehabilitation would depend on the humor of the person; not the type of humor that makes you laugh in amusement, but the kind that determines if you’re moist or dry, hot or cold: your humor determines whether there’s any hope for you to survive the great pestilence.
In the modern world, the description above is absurd. It’s completely unacceptable. After all, science has progressed; doctors have studied diseases and know about germs, the spreading of germs, and how to cure sickness or relieve symptoms. But if you were the main character in a Medieval bio-warfare crime story, this would be a very real concept that you could be dealing with.
I love history. And as a writer, I can learn a lot from it. Whether a story is based on history, or based in the future, or on a completely different world, its important to have real life reflected in the story, to offer a sense of relatability. No one likes a character, a world, or a setting that’s not, in a sense, relatable.
So how’s this for a character: A doctor, dressed in black attire, cloaked with a black robe, gloves and boots and a mask to hide himself from sickness. The mask has a large beak where the nose fits, and in the beak is stuffed floral and strong-smelling herbs to protect the doctor from the stench that makes mankind ill. He carries a cane, a stick that he jabs his patients with, or that he lifts garments and blankets to dispose of them. This doctor carries the dread news that all wish not to hear, news that his patient has been stuck with the great pestilence, and there is no hope for the person to live.
Now, what if the doctor was a mastermind behind an attack on humanity: a great illness that struck and spread like a wave, flooding the whole land with death and gruesome disease?
My family just recently invested in a lectureship from The Great Courses, a series of lectures by Dr. Dorsey Armstrong. This particular course is about the black death, the devastating plague of 1346-1353. Though it’s a tragic part of history, losing at least half the population of Europe, the history lessons have re-sparked a creative inspiration in me. When I was younger, I had stories dealing with this time period. And even more recently, Lacy and I created a character design inspired by the plague doctors from history.