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    « Types of Family History Books - A Wide Variety | Main | Making Memories into Literature »

    Stories Come First in Memoirs and Family History Books

    A lot of the people we talk to about creating memoirs or family history books say that organization is their chief stumbling block. But when we talk with them a bit more it becomes clear that they haven’t really generated ideas for stories they want to include and sorted which are best and which might be better left out.

    When writing theorists discuss the first step of the writing process they talk about pre-writing. At Stories To Tell we call the step Reflect. The idea is to begin recalling and collecting stories from your life or those of the ancestors you plan to include in your family history. Exercises and writing prompts can help trigger memories. Looking at old photos or family documents may trigger associated memories. Conversations with family members or friends may uncover stories you never heard. In any case, the more ideas you accumulate, the better. This process is an uncritical one. Don’t evaluate the stories yet. More is better.

    When you have generated as many possible stories as you can, then you begin to make critical judgments. As you review the stories you have you gain insights as to how to organize them. Maybe a straightforward chronological organization will work fine. But maybe you will notice certain themes recurring in the stories – the immigrant experience in coming to America, the importance of family, the importance of hard work, the value of education in improving oneself, or the importance of faith in overcoming adversity. Organizing the stories around these themes may be much more effective than a straight chronological approach.

    It’s hard to make a decision about organization until you know what you are going to organize. A writer who does a reflects carefully about her potential subject matter and has lots of stories to tell will generally have less difficulty organizing her book than an author who decided ahead of time on an organizational plan and then tries to make the stories she generates fit that plan.

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