Friday, October 17, 2008

Looking beyond History

How easy is it to make history? Very.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I would post weekly. As you can tell from the posting dates, that didn't happen, so my promise is history.

Anything that is in the past can be qualified as history. It doesn't have to be earth-shattering. It just has to have been.

Historical, on the other hand, requires more impact. Let's face it, no one cares if my wee promise is history UNLESS the impact in some way, shape, or form changes the future, whether that change is global, continental, national, or personal (Think Mary Todd Lincoln's mental instability vs. Abraham Lincoln's assassination.)

Our historical records tend to focus on life or world changing events. Everyone has heard of Waterloo--even if its ABBA's version--and understands the decisiveness of that battle. But how many know of the smaller skirmishes that laid the foundation for Britain's victory? Waterloo didn't stand alone, but iced a cake assembled ingredient by ingredient. It is the quality of the ingredients, or the lack thereof, that determines success or failure.

These small bits, the ingredients, are the recipe for historical writing success. These are the things that can set your book apart. Instead of another rehash of what has been done before, there is freshness, a new flavor.

The major battles, controversies, famines, political upheavals, felons, inventions, philosophies, etc. of any era are well documented. The things building them, swirling within them, and resulting from them are less so, yet they are pivotal because, without them, the greater event would never have happened.

While war scenerios are the best documented so are easiest (there are myriad books available dissecting the battles and strategies), they are not all.

A small farming village in a bucolic countryside finds itself host to a nest of radicals. This cannot help but color the lives of the villagers. Some will agree with the politics. Others will not. Some will go blithely through their days ignorant of the political bomb ticking beneath their feet. Others will simply ignore it, hoping it will go away before it explodes. This is true regardless of era, and it is how the people react to the circumstance that makes a good story.

To put it in a nutshell, look past the obvious. As you search, you will have a "Eureka!" moment (sans running down the street naked, one would hope), finding something that, while small within the context of time, meant success or failure in that moment. Things that happen everyday will suddenly become important: a dog bite that sidelined a messenger with vital information. A thrown horseshoe that put someone in the right or wrong place at the right or wrong time. A flippant comment that fanned the flames of revolution (Let them eat cake, anyone?)

Open your eyes to what lies beyond the big picture. See the vignettes. Remember, people make history. (Yes, it's been said before, and it will be said again.) Their pictures may be small and blurry, lost against a sweeping backdrop of epic proportion, but they are there. And they have stories to tell.

It's up to you to tell them.

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