A Checklist for Historical Writing
I’m reading an article in the magazine True West – Preserving the American West by author and literary agent James Donovan.
The article, “What Has History Taught Me,” starts with Donovan’s discussion of the secret to writing history books that sell.
His response: “…adhering to the three tenets of good popular historical writing as laid down by … Samuel Eliot Morison: Objectivity, vigor, and accuracy.”
Donovan says he would add “exhaustive research” to that list.
A Brief Explanation:
Objectivity – don’t let your personal opinions sway the facts
Vigor – active verbs, clear images, specific examples, unique metaphors
Accuracy – get it right! I see this as being tied to the last item. To quote from the movie Basic, “all we gotta do is tell the story right.”
Exhaustive Research – Do you visit the places you write about? Listen to music from that time period? Internet? Interviews? Newspaper articles? Museums?
Do we miss crucial pieces of the puzzle by relying solely on the internet for our research?
photo credit: Ian Hayhurst via photo pin cc