Margie Lawson

Changing your Writing World

Connecting the Dots: Conspiracy Theories in History and Writing

Today it seems like conspiracies and conspiracy theories are everywhere. Do you want to add shadowy organizations and secret plots to your writing? Why not look at real conspiracies from history to feed your own dark designs?

Come join historian Hugh Gordon as he shows which conspiracies can be proven, and others that remain in the shadows. You will learn about government plots and other beliefs that stretch the imagination. Learn how to make your reader uncover a truth that can fit with any conspiracy in history.

What you will learn:

  • The history of conspiracies and conspiracy theories
  • Conspiracies and culture
  • How to use conspiracies in fiction
  • How to create your own conspiracy theory

Who should take this course:

  • Beginner writers who want to write a conspiracy novel
  • Intermediate writers who want to improve the realism of their work and sprinkle it with historical facts and events
  • Experienced writers who want to engage in intricate world-building exercises

Lesson Plan

Lecture 1: Conspiracies vs. Conspiracy Theories

  • Definition of conspiracies and conspiracy theories
  • What is the difference? How some are real, and how some are (likely) not
  • Logic of history, logic of conspiracy theories
  • DISCUSSION: What do you know about conspiracies/conspiracy theories?
  • ACTIVITY: Read about conspiracies in fiction (TBD) and write a summary of one.

Lecture 2: Real Conspiracies

  • Tuskegee Syphilis Study
  • Watergate
  • MK Ultra
  • COINTELPRO
  • Iran/Contra
  • DISCUSSION: What makes these conspiracies vs. conspiracy theories?
  • ACTIVITY: Pick a historical conspiracy and write about how/why it was uncovered and how/if it makes for an exciting plot

Lecture 3: Early Conspiracy Theories: JFK and the Moon Landings

  • Disinformation campaigns
  • ACTIVITY: Pick a historical conspiracy theory and write a summary of why it was effective

Lecture 4: The Internet, Post 9/11 Truthers and current Conspiracy Theories

  • Pizzagate
  • COVID
  • QAnon
  • New ones every day!
  • ACTIVITY: Pick a current conspiracy theory and attempt to explain its popularity or how it went viral.

Lecture 5: What Makes Conspiracy Theories Compelling and Believable? (Or Not)

  • Hypercompetence vs. incompetence
  • Events chained together that may (or may not have any relationship)
  • If conspiracy is REAL, then conspiracy can be revealed, hero can be believed
  • If conspiracy is not real, then evidence does not need to make sense
  • ACTIVITY: What do you think are the elements of popular theories? Why are some believed by more people (moon landings, JFK assassination) while others (Beyonce is actually an Italian woman) are not?

Lecture 6: Characters and secret organizations in conspiracy novels

  • Secret government “deep state”
  • Retro ‘70s thrillers: Nazis!
  • Cold War paranoia: Commies!
  • Templars, Illuminati
  • Amoral corporations, corrupt politicians
  • Secret organization plotting world domination: SPECTRE, Cobra Command
  • ACTIVITY: Character Sketches
    • Member of conspiracy
    • Truther
    • Ordinary person caught up in conspiracy

Lecture 7: Writing Your Own Conspiracy Theory

  • Who is the protagonist? Superhero or everyman?
  • Hero must face insurmountable difficulties, face phobias
  • Theory should be broad and overarching, agents seemingly everywhere
  • A satirical look could be about something minor: a municipal election! College fraternity coverup
  • Defector from the conspiracy?
  • Ruthlessness
  • ACTIVITY: Conspiracy Theory
    • Who is involved? Who benefits?
    • What is the purpose?
    • How far does the coverup go?
    • Who is investigating it?
    • In your fictional world, is it “real”?

Teacher

Hugh Gordon

Hugh Gordon has a master’s degree and doctorate in Canadian Military History from the University of Victoria and a bachelor’s degree in History and Classics from Queen’s University. For seven years, he was the History Instructor at Keyano College in Fort McMurray. He has taught courses in History, Classics, and Native Studies. In addition, he has prepared public lectures on the history of Cold War culture and espionage, obscure weapons, air and space travel, concepts of the future, and conspiracy theories. He has been writing fiction since he was in elementary school. He enjoys science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, espionage thrillers, and mysteries. He has been published in Northword Magazine.

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