Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing About Historical Figures

What could be more interesting than looking into the mistakes, triumphs, disasters, and achievements of real people in the past? Nothing is more interesting than history. Most might find this subject boring due to how lacking it is taught in school. In reality, the study of history is somewhat an uncovering of secrets lost in time, which is very fun indeed. 

History is filled with the greatest heroes and heroines that shaped the society we live in today. However, history often downplays the importance of real people and their struggles. Most are focused exclusively on the movements, social developments, and economic forces, which are truly enlightening, but never a compelling read for laymen. People love to read about other people. Why? Because other people’s stories can inspire readers and learn from the successes of the past. For that reason, many authors write about historical figures to spill over the facts, actions, and significance of these people to readers. Certainly, a book can do many wonders. Hence, if you consider writing one about a historical figure and his works, this article is for you. As a nonfiction writer, you will face the daily terror of adding dimension to a seemingly dullish character portrayed in historical records. Unlike fiction books where you can form a plot for the story, you just can’t make up narratives when writing nonfiction. You have to draw on the raw materials offered by records. Thus, here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding which historical figure you will focus on in your books. 

Have I Done My Research? 

When it comes to writing about historical figures, you have to understand that a massive amount of research is necessary. This is the first rule of writing about actual events and people from history. Nonfiction authors, and some historical fiction authors, spend most of their time researching to make sure that the real-life stories being told are accurate and factual. This may be the most challenging part but also the most important one. The thorough research is what makes and breaks your book. It is what gives authenticity to your book. Research provides you with context and a deeper understanding of the historical figure you’ve chosen. Every author has a different research process, but it is always involved with inquiry in libraries, online, archives, and out in the world. The research process behind every nonfiction book is an incredible journey. 

Where Does This Person Fit in the Book? 

Finding the perfect historical figure to feature in your nonfiction narrative, you must understand where this character fits into the story. You might be writing about social movements, therefore, ask yourself if this hero is fitting for the book. Not only will this make it easier to ease into the topic tackled in the book, but it also helps streamline your research. Get clear on what you want to achieve with your nonfiction book. Writers have various reasons for writing about a particular figure or subject. Some may be focusing on exposing the dark side of human nature, or guard against xenophobia in contemporary society, or similar to the calling on freedom and revolt by Carl Moyler in his book, On Freedom and Revolt. With that said, the figures you feature must lead to the discovery of a treasure trove in your book. 

How Does This Person Appeal to the Audience? 

The person you feature must be put into great consideration as not everyone in history carries equal weight, especially when you’re writing a comparative analysis. Some figures are far more famous than others, and you must tread thoroughly to compare and contrast both characters. Similar to the situation of Martin Luther King Jr. And Albert Camus in On Freedom and Revolt: A Comparative Investigation. 

Moreover, your character will allow readers to be moved by their works and become more inclined with your subject. Historical figures expose the readers to experience a more complex truth that will drive them to see your reason. 

Have I Read Enough About this Person? 

Having knowledge about the person is not enough to share your subject. Being able to tell a great narrative without reading enough or more accounts of the historical figure will be extremely difficult for you. Again, researching and reading must be highlighted. Find books, if there are any, that feature this great person to gain in-depth knowledge. One time research or reading is never enough. The writing process requires continuous reading to set your book apart from others. You might not know it, but there could potentially be a book with the same topic and goal as yours. With reading, you’ll be able to identify an angle that the other books haven’t tackled yet. Hence, read to explore every avenue and route. 


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