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    « Writing a Memoir: It's Not Just the Facts | Main | Do I Need to Keep a Journal to Write a Memoir? »
    Tuesday
    May182010

    Making Family History Dramatic

    There seem to be two different points of view when it comes to family history stories. Folks who love genealogy and family history research go after the facts. They know the dates, places, and names, but they often do not know the dramatic life stories of their ancestors. Unfortunately, the records left behind are limited, and some family stories may be lost forever.

    On the other hand, there are people whose interest in family history developed precisely because they know exciting stories and want to share them. It is the inherent drama of what they do know that inspires them. Have you ever heard a good family tale and wondered if you had equally exciting events in your family history? You can bet you have – but the story has yet to be told. It is up to you to tell that story, and to tell it well, even though it may take some imagination and a little creative "embroidery" to get the tale told. We can all take a lesson from good stories, and good storytellers, to make whatever family stories we have, no matter how poorly documented or lost in time, more dramatic.

    To tell a story well, just turn to the theater – the experts who have been bringing us entertaining, uplifting, or amusing dramas for many centuries. Theatrical performances have some basic rules we should adopt to be dramatic.

    First, a stage needs a “set”, just as your story needs a ‘setup”.  This is the specific place and time, and you’ll want to describe it with as much thoughtful detail as a stage designer, to make it real to the audience. This is where lovers of research can really shine. Even if your family story was not handed down with this information, it can be easily gathered from historical sources and added into your family story.

    Second, a drama needs characters, real people with unique personalities. Dramas are always about people. You may love history, but that is a specialized interest, and a drama about time and place alone will bore your audience. They want to see people on the stage, interacting, fighting and loving, doing all the absurd human things we do. Don’t have any records of these events? No record of relationships? Too bad. However, you can be sure that your ancestors at least struggled with the obstacles of their time and place. In a pinch, it’s safe to make that the central theme or event of the story.

    Finally, all drama is about insights into the human condition, about how people grow and change. No one stays the same, and no one is uniformly happy. That would be a boring story. No, life is about conflict, about overcoming obstacles. Identify the conflicts and obstacles in the story, and you’ve got a dramatic struggle. Your story now has meaning. Use lots of emotional language and vivid description, and you’ll have your audience spellbound.

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