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    « Using Tom Wolfe's Advice in Writing Family History | Main | Reassure Your Relatives »

    Who's the Audience for Your Memoir or Family History?

    Some of our Stories To Tell workshops begin with a “Dedication Page” exercise. We ask participants to answer two questions:

    • Who is your book for?
    • Why are they special to you?

    The exercise is designed to make participants think about the people who will be reading their books. Understanding the audience for your book can sharpen its focus and make it much more engaging.

    If you say you’re writing for a “general audience” or “society” or “everybody,” the tone of your book may be flat and formal. But if you decide that you are telling a story to a single person or a specific group of people you will use a particular way of speaking or voice. You would tell a story differently if the audience was your grandmother than if it was you boss or your bridge club or your daughter’s fourth grade class. Knowing the audience for your book will allow you to adopt the appropriate tone, vocabulary and degree of informality.

    It’s important to recognize that different audiences have different frames of reference. If you are writing for your grandchildren things like phonographs, typewriters or polio might require some explanation. If you are a military veteran writing for other veterans, you may assume that they have experiences similar to yours and dispense with some of the detail you can assume is common to all of you. If you are writing a tribute for a person who is retiring after a long career you will want to emphasize accomplishments and positive traits with less focus on personal life. Awareness of audience will help you decide what your readers will want and need to know and to shape your book accordingly.

    Knowing your book’s audience will also help you to frame your stories effectively. As you introduce and conclude your stories what should you emphasize? If you are writing a family history you’ll probably want to highlight shared experiences, family values and traditions. A memoir of one’s career might want to point to the professional insights and wisdom to be gained from the stories you relate. And if you see your stories in a self-help context you will want to headline the life lessons demonstrated by the incidents you recount.


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    Reader Comments (2)

    This is a useful post. I found you via the Armchair Genealogist Blog. As you can see, we have something in common, a passion for preserving family stories!

    Helen, Founder of

    Feb 17, 2012 at 8:09AM | Unregistered CommenterHelen Spencer

    Thanks, Helen! It's always great to hear from a fellow family historian.
    Biff Barnes

    Feb 17, 2012 at 8:30PM | Registered CommenterNan Barnes

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