links to an article by David
Damrosch in the Chronicle of Higher Education, about how
a scholar should write when he writes for a general—rather than a
scholarly—audience. Damrosch describes his own experience:
The "Aha!" moment came when John
Sterling, Holt's publisher, pointed to
the opening of my first chapter. I had begun with a flourish,
emphasizing the excitement created when a young curator at the British
Museum first deciphered the Gilgamesh epic, with its seeming
confirmation of the biblical story of the Flood: "When George Smith
discovered the Flood story in the Epic of Gilgamesh
in the fall of 1872, he made one of the most dramatic discoveries in
the history of archaeology." Sterling ran his pen along these lines,
but instead of praising this bold beginning, he tapped the page and
asked, "Couldn't you make this opening just a bit more dramatic?"
Damrosch could, and did. The techniques he describes—grounding and
worldbuilding through telling detail, talking up his quirky central
character, a brilliant outsider burning with ambition and energy—are
equally relevant to fiction writing.
An ominous mongoose, for instance, made
an effective lead-in to a chapter on the Assyrian empire...