I would like to paint a picture of how finance evolved from ancient history (or even prehistory) to today, in as short of a way as possible (a 15 minute read). How can I do that? What techniques are good to use? What are some good examples of writing perhaps that I could check out? Everything I search for on Google brings up "write a persuasive thesis-based essay", like you do in school. I don't want to pick a thesis, I just want to lay out the facts in an interesting way, sort of telling a story I guess but not making up an elaborate pseudo-historical story. I don't really know where to begin. I started by writing 15,000 words of pure facts and organized them to sort of give context to them and tie them back to the overarching theme of finance and how it evolved. But that's 10x the size I need it to be, I am looking for a 1,500 word article that covers a broad 10,000 year history at a high level. What can be done here?
Let me start by saying I’m assuming two things:
- When you write I am looking for a 1,500 page article you mean I am looking for a 1,500 word article.
- You are not writing for a learned journal.
10,000 years of Finance is a big topic and I think you’ll struggle, I think most authors would struggle, to write a comprehensive summary covering the length and breadth of the topic in only 1500 words. You’ll have to be selective.
There are many ‘axes’ along which you could select. For example:
- You might choose a branch of Finance to write about, perhaps the development of bookkeeping, or forms of physical money, or banking, or insurance for overseas trade.
- You might confine your piece by geography, such as Finance in India, or North America, or the Dutch Empire.
- You might write about a more limited time span than 10,000 years, such as Finance before history (though I think that’s going to be a tough one, I strongly suspect Finance really only begins after the Sumerians start scratching crop records on bits of clay).
- You could write about specific individuals who figure in the history of Finance (the Scotsman who founded the Bank of England, the Englishman who founded the Bank of France).
- And of course you could make selections along multiple axes simultaneously – ‘Notable Figures in the History of Finance in the United States of America since the Revolution of 1777’ or some such.
Whatever you choose you want to tell a good story – even in a work of non-fiction the author is (or in my school of thinking ought to be) searching for a strong narrative line on which to ‘hang’ everything. Perhaps you want to tell how Bitcoin (and its ilk) is a natural progression which started with cowrie shells. Perhaps the story you seek is how a nation’s mastery of Finance contributed to its development as a world power. Perhaps you want to amuse your readers by laying before them all the strange items that have been used as currency, back to the cowrie shells.
Since you are keen to write a history article it might be most straightforward to start at the beginning, though remember that you are choosing the place and time of that beginning, and bring the reader forward. But that is not the only way to write history.
Whatever you choose to write about, I think you should have answered a few questions before you started writing those 15,000 words. Whenever I have a piece to write I have a brief which tells me:
- The audience. For you such a brief might indicate what aspects of Finance are likely to be most of interest.
- How much I am expected to write. If I’m only being paid for 1,500 words I’m not going to write 15,000. And only partly because I don’t get paid for 90% of them, I also avoid the pain of having a commissioning editor tell me I have completely misunderstood the brief. The same applies if I'm not being paid, writing 250 words is a completely different task to writing 25,000 words. You don't achieve the latter by repeating the former 100 times.
- The ‘house style’ of the publication I am writing for. Even if its just an internal business report, do they use British or American spelling, what lengths of paragraph should I write, should I write headlines and subheadlines, and a whole lot more besides.
- And then there’s all the nitty-gritty of the professional writer: deadlines, payments, file formats, etc.
- And then there’re the things I’ve forgotten to mention.
If you are the audience, if you are the commissioning editor, this does not absolve you of needing to answer the questions above for you as the author. Nor does it absolve you as the author from clarifying all this prior to opening up a new Word file (other writing software is available).
Since you have already written 15,000 words you may be tempted to try to edit them down to only 1,500 words. I fear that that approach would result in a series of somewhat disjointed sentences and paragraphs where you have selected the parts you want to keep, but cut out the elegant transitions between subjects and periods, and the fine linking paragraphs which lead the reader along.
I’d suggest instead that you re-read those 15,000 words, then seal them in an envelope. Have a good night’s sleep and in the morning start writing the article you want to write.
You’ve asked for reading suggestions, I don’t really have any well-informed views on that. What to suggest would depend a lot on who you are writing for. The BBC used to publish a History magazine, they may still do so, and if you were writing for an educated British audience that magazine might provide useful guidance. I expect there are still printed magazines of history for general audiences in other English-writing countries too.
Some of what used to be the broadsheets in the UK also publish relatively long, by newspaper standards, pieces of history, often but not exclusively recent history. I'm sure I've read some recently that took about 15 minutes to read.