Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A New Direction

So, for once in my life I am actually going to write a post that I told you I was going to write. Like I wrote in my last post, I am thinking of going a different way with my writing.

Disclaimer: I haven't actually decided on this idea. It's sort of like breaking up. Yes, maybe you think a certain other person is attractive, but you're not actually leaving your boyfriend/girlfriend for that other person. You're breaking up because the relationship itself isn't working out, not because you fell in love with someone else.

Photo by hashmil on Flickr
I'm not sure that analogy made sense, but basically, I'm not "leaving" travel writing because I'm infatuated with another genre. I'm leaving it because it's not right for me. And now I'm dating around in other genres, and there is one that particularly intrigues me.

Biographies.

If you're a student (or possibly if you're not a student), that one word alone might be enough to make you drowsy. Your immediate reaction? Boring. My immediate reaction to your immediate reaction? Exactly. 


I have sort of a revolutionary tendency, particularly with writing. No matter what I end up doing, I want to do it in a way that's different and unique--but not just for the sake of uniqueness, but because I think a change is needed. And as I have seen, the genre of biography needs a revolution.

Maybe I should back up a little.


When I was about 14 or 15, I had to write a paper for a class, on a person of my choice, who exemplified virtue. For some unknown reason, I chose Lady Jane Grey, the rather obscure 9-day queen of England. I was so excited, it's almost ridiculous. I visited numerous libraries. I read more than one book cover to cover, and dipped into several others. I took books on vacation with me (and then actually read them). And I wished I had more time.

When I got to class to present my paper, I discovered that the rest of my classmates had not done that much work. They had done a reasonable amount of work. They had probably gotten a couple different biographies out of the library, perused them, and maybe done a Google search, and then written a paper. And I realized I had done way more than I was supposed to. And I didn't even mind it.


Maybe that past experience helped my subconscious along in coming to a realization lately, which is that I really enjoy reading about people. Real people. In my British literature class, my absolute favorite part of the readings for class, no matter which author I'm reading, is the biographical headnotes. I was not getting the whole idea of the Romantic poets--until I read two pages about their lives. Suddenly Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth were real people, who wrote for a reason. Keats wrote an ode all about an imaginary urn. With, you know, stuff painted on it. Who cares? It means so much more once you know that Keats died young, unable to marry the girl he loved because of his poor health, probably longing for more time to finish his work and is life. The images on his imaginary urn may well have been his desperate avoidance of death, wishing he could freeze time and enjoy the loveliness of life like the people painted on the urn.

I could go on and on with examples when knowing the lives behind the authors make writing so much more real. "She Walks in Beauty" seems like such a sweet, romantic poem--until you discover that its author, Lord Byron, spent an entire year cavorting around with over a hundred different women. Mary Wollstonecraft's bold demand for women to be less silly and more wise is a lot more interesting in light of the fact that she tried to commit suicide after being rejected by her lover.

Since middle school, I've loved reading about historical figures. History isn't made by things or events--it's made by people. People whose actions have had an influence in our lives, whether we realize it or not, even down to this day.

But let's be honest for a moment. Sure, it can be fun to learn about famous people, but the question is, is it worth it to slog through dry 800-page biographies written by people who obviously took great pains to write down every detail of the person's childhood, education, allergies, favorite colors, and what they ate for breakfast, not to mention the same details of the lives of their family, friends, and dog. Plus, they make sure to give a thorough background of the time period and location. Let's face it, the only reason we would pick up a biography like that would be that we had to.

So I think people have come to be a little afraid of biographies. But what if the whole genre of biographies could be changed?

Actually, as far as I can tell (and I'm no expert), the genre has been changing. Biographies are becoming more reader-friendly. There are a lot of really fantastic biographies out there. I just finished a really great one, Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence, which I highly recommend to anyone wishing to know more about Austen's life.

But there are some biographers who try too hard to be interesting, to the point where they almost make stuff up. They make the story as scandalous as possible, using creative liberties in places where there are gaps. And they can, because they're the biographer, and they know everything.

But anyway. Enough of this ranting. (Homework calls, you know.) The point is...I see a place for me in biography writing. It feels like...me. 


6 comments:

  1. Hey, I'm glad that you are going after this! You'll have to post some preliminary work for feedback, because I (and I assumed many others as well) would be interested in seeing what you come up with. Anyway, congrats on the change!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, and I will! We'll see how things go as I get into it.

      Delete
  2. That is awesome. I would like to write an autobiography one day. When I mentioned it once, somebody asked me what kind of slant it would have. They said, "You can't put everything about yourself in one book, so you'll have to decide what specifically you want to convey." I guess my main point would be that God made my life amazing.

    I would also like to help other people get their amazing life stories down. It reminds me of the Mormon.org videos, where people explain how they found God in their lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to think that autobiographies always told the real story. Like, if every person in the world wrote their own autobiography, then no one would ever have to write another biography.

      But interestingly, that's NOT the way it is. The subject of a biography, of course, always knows best what events happened in their lives, but that doesn't mean they can look at things objectively (not that anyone can), or particularly, that they're willing to share everything with the world. Usually, they're not. And even if they were, like you said, they can't put every single detail in a single book.

      Autobiographies offer a single viewpoint on a person's life, just like any other biography.

      Anyway, thanks for your comment. I think it would be great if you wrote an autobiography someday. Those are just some thoughts I have on the subject.

      Delete
  3. I finally caught up on your blog! I hadn't managed to read it since Summer was born (it seems like spending a few minutes reading a blog wouldn't be too difficult to do, even with a baby, but apparently it was a bit difficult). I'll try to do better with keeping up, because I really do like reading what you have to say.

    If you find any great pumpkin recipes, especially healthy ones, I'd like to know! Pumpkin is one of the easier veggies to serve to Ken because it's pretty much always pureed.

    Summer is awake now, so I guess I'll keep this comment short!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, having a baby is pretty much always a good excuse to not do things...haha. I'll keep an eye out for healthy pumpkin recipes.

      Delete