I am reading an excellent sci-fi novel, The January Dancer, by Michael Flynn. In describing Brigit Ban, one of his characters, Flynn says, “…she was the sort for whom a well- constructed narrative is worth a thousand detailed facts, and on occasion she was known to discard a fact or two to save the narrative.” Great description! Also, important advice for memoirists and family historians.
Whether telling your own story or that of your family you have a mass of facts at your disposal. Creating a book involves choosing which of those facts to include and which don’t make it into the book. Not all facts are equally important.
The objective of a family history or memoir is to trace what is most important in a person’s life. Your book should focus on dramatic moments, turning points, and illustrating the values of the person. So as you decide whether to tell the story chronologically or topically or to blend the two, ask yourself which of the facts and details you have gathered fit into the flow of the story you want to tell and which are digressions which will take your reader away from the main thrust of the story. Some digressions may be important in that they illustrate an important aspect of your subject’s character and therefore belong in the book. Others are outliers, true, but not really important to the flow of the story you want to tell. Your book may be better without them.
Your goal as a writer should be to create as vivid a picture of your character’s life as you can, not to list every bit of factual information you have accumulated through research and planning. Don’t be afraid to emulate Brigit Ban and, “…discard a fact or two to save the narrative.”