Part 3: Megan Marshall on Writing Style

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="054424561X" locale="us" height="500" src="" width="332"]Are you happy with your writing style? Do you ever wish you could change or improve your technique?

On June 10, 2014, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Megan Marshall discussed her writing style and how she honed it.

In this post you will learn how Marshall found her writing style.

(This is the 3rd post in my 3-part series on how Megan Marshall  approaches her narratives, handles the task of writing the biography of a person others have explored, and how she found her writing style.)

Writing Style

How did you come to your writing style?

Marshall attributes her writing style to 3 sources:

1. Marshall read a lot of biographies before she ever wrote one.

Reading the work of others helped Marshall find her writing style.

2. Marshall admits that the subjects of her biographies have influenced her writing style.

Marshall picked up elements of her subjects’ speech as she transcribed their letters into her research notebook and onto her research notecards.

3. Marshall's friend and mentor Justin Kaplan also influenced her writing style.

Biographer Justin Kaplan won the Pulitzer Prize in Biography for [simpleazon-link asin="0671748076" locale="us"]Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain[/simpleazon-link]. Marshall credits Kaplan for showing her how to know when to start a biography.

Kaplan taught Marshall that biographers should begin their tales at the most transformative or definitive moment in their subjects' lives.

Kaplan began his biography of Mark Twain with the moment that Samuel Clemens decided he would become Mark Twain. He commenced his biography of Walt Whitman with Whitman on his deathbed.

Kaplan's influence led Marshall to open [simpleazon-link asin="054424561X" locale="us"]Margaret Fuller[/simpleazon-link] with the first letter Fuller ever wrote.

Fuller wrote the letter as a child and Marshall believes that her childhood was the most transformative event of Fuller’s life. Fuller's upbringing determined who she became and why she acted as she did.

Marshall concluded her remarks by sharing the advice her first editor for [simpleazon-link asin="0618711694" locale="us"]The Peabody Sisters[/simpleazon-link] gave her: Don’t let a page go by without having your main character on it—people will lose sight of your character if you don’t write about them.



Although, Megan Marshall presented her advice with a focus on how to write biography, historians will likely find much value in her writing tips.

For example, it may be useful for historians to consider what is the most transformative event in our narratives when we look for places to begin. We may also find that our narratives read better when we place the main character(s) of our histories on every page.


What Do You Think?

How do you decide where to begin your historical narratives?

How have the subjects of your narratives impacted your writing style?