Saturday, January 9, 2016

Blog on biography writing : 1st person, Biographies : 3rd person

Like almost all blog writers, I tend to write my blog posts in the the first person - I am forced to, in fact, when I post about my present day mechanics in researching the biographies of people who died before I was even born.

And same for the posts that discuss why I pick the subjects I do and give them the slant that I do.

Think then of these first person blog posts as shading towards autobiography and memoir.

why Third Person blog posts

But the blog posts that are narratives of my biography subjects' life and times don't really work in the conventional first person of blog writing - the tenses in particular seem all wrong.

So I try to write them in the semi-omniscient third person and first person plural voices of every historian who is still left with as many questions as answers, even after years of archive trolling, and so must resort to well supported conjecture on many points.

"He decided to buck the Washington authorities and continue administering penicillin to his SBE patients."

"We don't know if the other members of his small team fully agreed to his decision - in particular, we have no idea how Dr Karl Meyer really felt."

Always a bit jarring,  all those "we"s popping up, since the general reader isn't likely to share a common body of knowledge about a subject with the author, in the way that a specialist academic reader is likely to.

Still, morally, better that than a tendency to claim more than the existing firm evidence allows.

history books as Popular Literature

I believe that well supported & well argued conjecture - based upon a lifetime of deep reading in both narrow and wide areas - is what we pay the best historians the (ahem) big bucks for.

It is what can turn well written histories and biographies about important people with few surviving personal papers in a sort of paper-turning propulsive detective read.

That's my aim, anyway ...

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