We have been focusing on gathering stories through digital recording in the last few blog posts, with the focus on collecting digital recordings of stories from others, either through interviews or by telephone. To create a family history book, you often need to work with others who know the stories you want to preserve. But what if you are working on a memoir? You have far more control over the story recording process, because you are telling every story in the book.
Many authors use dictation rather than typing, across all genres, but memoir writers have a great advantage over fiction writers. That is because a memoir writer is working from recall, rather than generating original content. (Imagine the science fiction writer dictating… “The year was 2184, no, make that 2258, on the planet Paradise, no, call it Utopia…”) Too much freedom and spontaneity can be a dangerous thing. Memoir writers are grounded by the fact that you are telling the truth, as you see it, and you have only one memory to work from. There is still plenty of creativity involved in writing a memoir, of course, in how to describe your remembered experience.
The example of the science fiction writer above illustrates the first rule of story recording: do your planning first. It is only after you have decided the story to tell, and thought about what you want to say, that you should record.
You can do a great job with your stories with some forethought. Consider this general definition of a story: it is centered on one event, which takes place at one time and place. If you can narrow your story in this way, you will control the action of the story (event) and describe the setting more effectively (time and place). Think of your chapter as a string of these specific, finite stories, and your book will be better structured and more pleasurable for the reader.
Once you have a plan for your story, the artistry of the oral storyteller can truly shine. How? In the choices you make on the sentence level, and in your choice of words. Your distinctive style of speaking, your “voice’, will b captured as you tell your story, lending your book far more style than if you attempted to write it.
This artistry is far more likely to occur if you are relaxed and feeling expansive. To relax, get prepared. Rehearse the story once in your mind from beginning to end, and think about details you would like to add in. Usually, in our “first draft” we tell the facts of the story, but with some thought we can add in more colorful details. Recall with all your senses: sights, sounds, smells how it tasted and felt to the touch. Then, when you record your story, include those details to supplement the facts to l make it “real” to the reader.
Some of our authors use notes to stay on track. If you are concerned that you can’t tell the story in order naturally, a written list of points you want to make can be handy. Or they can be distracting and ruin your storytelling “flow”. It’s up to you. Whatever you do, don’t write out the story and read it into the recorder, as this is usually a summary, not a true story.
Many storytellers begin by “circling”, trying to contextualize the story in its time and place. It doesn’t “sound good”, but it’s natural, and if you just press onward the story will unfold. Remember, this is just your first draft. You can always add content if you forget something by recording more later, and you can change or delete content easily once you have the story typed up. Story recording allows you to quickly generate the bulk of your book. Then you can refine the content on paper to make your stories shine.