History: Making Characters Interesting Without Their Own Words

editing_for_authors
Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

Taylor Harbin

Power to the pen!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 8, 2013
Messages
2,559
Reaction score
289
Location
Arkansas
I'm busy gathering research material for my project, but having just finished In Cold Blood, I'm struck with a dilemma: How can you, writing non-fiction, make historical characters interesting when they didn't leave many of (or none of) their own words behind, when the bulk of your information comes from newspapers? I have background info, physical descriptions, and some research requests in the works.

I realize that my work and Capote’s are vastly different. Nevertheless I’d like your opinions.
 

Siri Kirpal

Swan in Process
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Sep 20, 2011
Messages
8,756
Reaction score
2,793
Location
In God I dwell, especially in Eugene OR
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

You tell it like a narrator telling a story about someone else. Which is what you're doing anyway.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

Taylor Harbin

Power to the pen!
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Dec 8, 2013
Messages
2,559
Reaction score
289
Location
Arkansas
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

You tell it like a narrator telling a story about someone else. Which is what you're doing anyway.

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal

Then I shall! Thanks for the reply.
 

WeaselFire

Benefactor Member
Kind Benefactor
Super Member
Registered
Joined
May 17, 2012
Messages
3,539
Reaction score
428
Location
Floral City, FL
This story is based on...

You see it in every true crime novel out there.

Jeff
 

frimble3

Heckuva good sport
Super Member
Registered
Joined
Oct 7, 2006
Messages
8,902
Reaction score
1,621
Location
west coast, canada
If you don't have their words, use their deeds. A guy who picks up a gun and shots up half the town when he's drunk is different from a guy who coldly, deliberately and slowly plans to murder his business partner. Or the guy who just happens to shoot a random person because the guy's cunning plan to rob a bank went wrong.
 

Staccata

Registered
Joined
Jun 13, 2019
Messages
12
Reaction score
1
You may have already done this, but genealogy sites can be really helpful in fleshing out background with birth dates, locations, censuses, and so on. There was one person I researched a while back; even with nothing at all from her own words, it was kind of astonishing how just working out her family tree humanized her to me and made her life seem that much more immediate. I'd agree with others to just focus on what you do know.
 

Krampus Nacht

Krampus