Extra Credits is a great Youtube series. In fact, at one point, they were even featured on my Links page. I tend to rotate things there from time to time, and maybe I should be giving them another go.
Anyway, I wanted to draw your attention, please, to what I find to be my particular favorite sets of their videos. A good chunk of Extra Credits is talking about game design and development. Mostly video games, which if you have little interest in, doesn’t make them that appealing.
But then there is the other set of videos they do, which I absolutely, positively recommend: Extra History. A series which sets out to talk about (and discuss) history you may not know, understand, or recognize.
And these are great, especially because they often focus on small details that most history books don’t. A generic history book may tell you that X ancient ruler went to war with their neighboring country. Extra History, on the other hand, will delve into the reasons why, bringing up things such as “this adviser to the ruler knew that their neighboring country had access to a trade route that could make them all very wealthy, and therefore pushed for the war for economic reasons.”
Why am I bringing this up? Mostly for the writers of epics (or would-be writers of epics) among us. One of the requirements for an epic is capturing the full scope of a conflict, rather than just a small, tiny facet of it. An action-adventure fantasy war novel will simply be about the protagonists awesome, butt-kicking actions in a couple of battles, probably presented in a way so that they are responsible for the final blow that ends the war. An epic action-adventure war novel, on the other hand, will delve into the details of the war as a whole in some manner: the political ramifications of a battle, the decisions that lead to each deployment of force, the reason locations are held and kept, etc.
And before you can write about such things, you need to understand them. You need to understand the complex myriad of decisions that can and will go into a world-spanning conflict so you can put that to work in your story.
And where can you start to get a taste for such things? Why, Extra Credits‘ Extra History videos, of course! They go into all sorts of interesting details that, for most, happen “behind the scenes.” Why did X country go for this location and not another during a war? What sort of political diplomacy had an effect on what decisions? It’s a series that is great for broadening the mind and opening up the kind of critical thought that’s necessary for writing a true epic, and not just a really long action story.
Looking for a good place to start? I’d recommend the first of their three video series on how WWII was “The Resource War,” which talks about how much of that war’s strategic and tactical decisions were shaped by needs for basic things, such as access to aluminum, cobalt, oil, and food. It’s a great primer for looking at what sort of details you can put into your epic to make it a real epic.
If you’re still hungry for more (and not just about war), then I’d recommend watching second their series on both the Punic Wars (which shaped the world in impressive ways) and the South Sea Bubble, followed by the rest of their material. It really will help you look at history in a new way, seeing the complexity that goes into each and every step of decision.
And once you’re looking through that lens, you’ll be able to turn it to your writing as well.