BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
HOW TO WRITE ABOUT (HISTORIC) BUILDINGS
The Beanery Writers Group (Southwestern Pennsylvania) members have an opportunity to visit and write about a Frank Lloyd Wright structure, in any genre the writer chooses. Once the idea was seeded, I realized that doing this would present a challenge to many of the group members, including myself.
We are preparing for this project by visiting and writing about local structures: two unusual restaurants, a historic building built in 1799 which is now a museum, a Catholic church Basilica, the county courthouse, etc. Because these excursions have proven how difficult it is to write about historic structures, I searched the ‘net for guidance. I discovered that there’s a scarcity of instructional material to glean from.
Buildings, like people, have stories to tell about their community’s and the nation’s past. Embedded in historic structures and landscapes are traces of past lives that are clues to how our ancestors lived, and how life today evolved. To write about them is to bring these traces to life.
Historic structures, with a wealth of history, legend, and folklore on their doorstep, provide fertile material for factual and fictional writing. The writer’s imagination, inspired by the iconic locations, can run wild, using descriptive style and creating imaginative stories based on both fact and fiction.
There are different approaches to writing about historic (or current day) structures.
- Describe in detail a general overall view of the structure, a room, or an item(s) on display. Use all your senses, but remember: descriptive writing does not include opinion.
- Use personal interviews, research (libraries and Internet—caution, though—make certain the information is accurate), and documentation (public records, newspaper stories) to write a factual piece on the history of the structure. Support this with information on the structure itself and/or its contents, in part or in whole. Include the date the structure was built, its architectural style, how the structure changed through the years
- Explore the people connected with the structure: the builder, the owners through the years, who worked in the structure, who visited the structure and why.
- What was the structure’s original use? How did it reflect its certain historical era. How did it change through the years (additions, renovations, etc.)? What is its current use? Why were these changes made? What construction, special to its purpose, was used? What is the relationship between its construction and its purpose?
- Why do you think that people are interested in visiting this building?
- Can these buildings tell us anything about who lived in them or provide insight into their work? Why or why not? If so, how?
- What aspects of the structure appeal to you, and what aspects do not appeal to you? Why?
- What does the building mean to the community? Does it have any special meaning to particular residents?
Consider some unique points of view:
- What foods were served and how was it prepared? Was it different than today?
- You are a photographer prepared to document the structure before its demolition. What will you photograph, and why?
- Write from the point of view of your senses: sight, sound, smell, hearing, feeling.
- Your blind friend wants to “see” the structure. How would you describe it to him/her? What special preparations would you make to give him a tour? How would you let him see the structure and artifacts?
- The structure is scheduled to be razed for the purpose of “progress.” Why should it be categorized as a historical building? Do you think it should be preserved in recognition of its heritage? Elaborate.
- Write a letter to a friend, inviting them to share a meal or event with you at the structure’s site.
- You are looking for a new home. Why or why not would this structure serve your purpose?
- You are on the structure’s construction team. Considering when it was built, examine the whys and wherefores of the process.
- A friend is visiting you and wants to discover the “flavor” of the area. Why or why would you not encourage them to visit this structure?
Certainly the above isn’t comprehensive. The Beanery Writers Group members welcomes any suggestions or input from our readers. Please place suggestions in the comment box below, or e-mail them to beanerywriters @ yahoo.com.
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