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Writing History For Entertainment
Yes, some do...
Ellipsism: A sadness that you'll never be able to know how history will turn out.
Emotions people feel but can’t explain
Generally, historical writers have four options, not just fiction and non-fiction. Writing non-fiction for entertainment—also known as mass market history—is what most readers who read history books are familiar with. Those brave souls who read academic history for enjoyment…you poor sods. Those who write historical fiction also have two options. Most readers don’t know it, but there’s a choice that historical fiction writers make: accurate or not. Those who make the first choice often do the same work historians do and the work that fiction writers perform. And that, brothers and sisters, is a great deal. Those who make the second choice can skim the record and make up stuff as they go along.
Those who write both fiction and non-fiction have all four choices…and there are only a few of us, thankfully.
Writing to entertain and engage you, dear readers, takes some marketing savvy—which I do not have; some imagination—which I do; and some skill with words—of which I have some. The historical writer has to decide what it is he or she wants to say. Is there a point to the potential narrative that a potential reader wants to get to?
An easier way to put this is: what do you want to say?
Even more important is, is what you want to say original? That can be the hardest part, because everything after—from research to composition to editing to marketing—depends upon this answer. What do you want the reader to get out of it?
Then comes the truly hard work of creating a story, even where there isn’t one.
Everything is a story; everything everyone writes. Remember—and many forget—that you are writing to entertain and inform, not just hear your own words in your head. This is why most writers dread this agonizing process of writing, which is just mechanical, frankly. Getting the words into the right order so the message makes some sense is…drudgery. It’s that content that gets to be hard work, even more than the research: making the message ring with the reader.
Everything else that goes into the story—fiction or non—is where the enjoyment it…except marketing, which is a pain in the…
The writer combines these elements like an alchemist making gold; a little of this, a little of that…only after several tries does something useful come out of it. The tale told well—accurate or not—is the most memorable. We may remember the writer who tells a tale uniquely as odd, but depending on how well he told it, it may be more memorable…or not.
The writer can’t often tell how the reader will react to any story.
Now, you may wonder, then, how the “bestsellers” keep putting their stuff on the shelves and end up on the top of the lists. That’s part marketing, part name recognition, and part PR. Critics and literary agents love to be recognized, especially those who can’t write. So they promote books for whatever reason from writers they favor because, when they do, they get to bask in that limelight. It’s as true for fiction writers as it is for non-fiction. Given the accolades some books get, I’m of the opinion that the market will promote whatever gets their promoters the most attention, regardless of the quality of the work. I’ve seen some absolute dreck on the top of the lists—1619 Project is one—that are there because someone wants them there, and others go along because they want to be in that limelight. But write a book with the title of The Elvis Marilyn Arthritis Cure UFO Alien JFK Conspiracy Diet and it won’t matter what’s in it, because it will fly off the shelves.
The Past Not Taken takes a story of the past in a little different direction. It centers on the life of a young university professor whose life takes different paths from the ones he had envisioned. While these are life decisions and not historical events, they center on the question: What If?
First, a decision to help a friend in trouble upends his life. Second, a surprise visitor makes him make more life-changing decisions. Finally, a ghost from the past brings his perspectives full-circle.
Two Events, One Result
Missing the Memorial Day Point, Aren't We?
On 20 May:
1864: The battle/massacre called Spotsylvania Court House ends. For eleven days, the Army of the Potomac under George Meade and the Army of Northern Virginia under Robert Lee pummeled and tore at each other over a wide spot in the Virginia wilderness. After over 30,000 casualties, Ulysses Grant’s Overland Campaign would continue the next day.
1927: Charles Lindberg took off from Roosevelt Field in New Jersey, heading north by east. Most observers never expected to see him again. The most surprising thing about Lindberg is that, for all he achieved in his lifetime, he always acted as if he wanted to avoid publicity.
And today is the end of NATIONAL EMS WEEK. I took classes for EMS training an age ago, but was distracted by…hell, I got transferred to Germany and never picked it up again. See how your life can be turned by small events?