If you are telling a story you need to use scenes to do it. Whether your book is a work of fiction, uses the tools of creative non fiction to report on contemporary events or in a memoir, or seeks to bring history to life as a story well told your success will be accomplished scene by scene. Scene is a simple concept first defined by the ancient Greeks as having three components: A person (or people) In a specific place Where something happens To avoid reliance on narrative summary her are five questions to ask in planning the scenes that will tell your story best
“I wish I’d had a chance to ask _________ a few questions before they died,” is a thought that almost everyone writing about the past, whether a biographer, a narrative historian, a personal historian or a family historian has had. No matter how much research you do, there are always holes in the historical record, information you can’t find, questions you can’t answer. It’s frustrating. If only one could apply the techniques of the oral historian and interview someone who knew it would be so much easier. Let’s look at a way to use a writer’s journal to do just that. Journaling is an open ended, uncensored, free writing technique in which a writer can answer questions about what they need to find out. Pat Darcy in her article Writing to Learn in The Journal Book describes the process as a conversation the writer carries on with herself. Suppose you took that idea one step further and made the conversation one in which you ask questions of that now dead source that you wish you could interview.
Searching the memoir section of your local bookstore (if your are fortunate enough to still have one) or the pages of Amazon, it seems as if there is a consensus among authors that the genre requires the employment of the tools of creative nonfiction.But there’s another approach to memoir that we see less often these days. It’s a reflective look at the author’s life. We might see it as a curated experience of events as opposed to a direct one.
If you are part of an extended family that gets together for summer reunions, big holiday gatherings, or to commemorate important occasions like 75th birthdays, 50th anniversaries, or retirements, then you are fortunate. These family gatherings are virtual gold mines for the would-be family or personal historian. Bringing together your relatives gives you eyewitness sources who can add information to whatever you are researching. There are some simple things that you can do to make sure that you take maximum advantage of the opportunity your family gathering will present.
One of the critical stages of writing a book comes when the first draft is done. You as an author need to move from the creation of the manuscript to revision. You probably had an outline to guide you as you created your draft, but there are almost always unplanned changes as you write. You add an idea, a story or a detail that wasn’t in the outline. It’s time to ask yourself if what you’ve actually written effectively conveys the ideas you wanted to develop when you originally conceived you plan for the book. A reverse outline is a tool to guide you in revising your draft by looking at what you have written.
Do you buy hardcover books? Nice, but expensive, right? There is a place for hardcover books, and that is exactly when you want to create that impression: nice, and expensive. These books are “keepers” and are meant to last. They are also great as gifts or family heirlooms. Mass produced hardcovers in bookstores are affordable for big publishers because they use an offset printer. You would need to order a minimum of 500 books to get these lower costs. If you can sell that many, go for it! Or you can print a few hardcovers, and then release the same book in softcover and/or as an ebook, as some of your buyers may not want a nice, expensive keeper.
How much of the material can I quote from a copyrighted source without getting permission from the copyright holder? It’s a difficult question to answer. While giving authors broad protection for their work, copyright is not absolute. One of the best ways to understand some of the limits to copyright protection is to seek guidance from the U.S. Government’s Copyright Office. The information listed below comes from the Copyright Office’s website: One of the more important limitations of a copyright is the doctrine of fair use.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said. "We want to make every book available—the good, the bad and the ugly." Bezos’ company has moved a long way towards doing that leaving the world of traditional publishing and book selling largely a shambles Amazon’s success has prompted a good deal of hand ringing and concern for the future of books and even culture itself. The most recent such pained analysis of what’s happened to the marketplace is Steve Wasserman’s article in the June 18, edition of The Nation titled The Amazon Effect. The subtitle poses a question, “Amazon got big fast, hastening the shift to digital publishing. But how big is too big?” We leave that question to the economists and MBAs. We’ll focus instead on two questions often posed by first time authors seeking to get into print.
Putting yourself in your family history will make it more interesting. You’re the author. You belong there. Putting yourself into the book will add context and meaning to the facts and family stories. A lot of people setting out to write a family history think they must only recount the facts they have discovered in their genealogical research. That’s a legitimate way to write a family history. Unfortunately, it’s often not a very interesting way. Readers are looking for meaning. They are drawn in by emotions. Those are two ingredients you as an author can supply.
Most family historians have probably never heard of Leopold Von Ranke, but he’s largely responsible for many of the methods they use in studying their family’s history. Von Ranke, a great German historian of the 19th Century is generally regarded as the founder of the empirical school of source based history. He believed that we should use primary sources to learn "how things actually were." Family historians have happily embraced the search for documentary evidence about their ancestors. Unfortunately there’s another element of the historical method Von Ranke suggested which is much less rigorously applied by genealogists and family historians. That involves the purpose of research. He said, "To history has been assigned the office of judging the past, of instructing the present for the benefit of future ages.” The task of instructing can only be accomplished when the historian constructs a historical narrative from the information she has gathered through her research. In short, you have to tell the story of your ancestors if anyone is to learn from your research. How do you plan to do that?
Giving a book a good title is hard. Author’s often struggle with it. Would you read a novel titled Trimalchio in West Egg? That’s what F. Scott Fitzgerald titled his third novel until his editor Maxwell Perkins convinced him The Great Gatsby might work better. As Michael Hyatt, Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers explains, a book’s title is “…like a newspaper headline: If prospective readers are intrigued, they keep reading. If they don’t, they move on to the next book…” How do you make sure you have a good title?
We’re looking forward to the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree which begins Thursday in Burbank. One of the things we enjoy is that the participants come ready to learn. Many come equipped with questions they want answered before the conference ends on Sunday. If you have attended a few genealogy conferences you know that the questions people thinking about writing or already working on a family history book will ask usually follow a predictable pattern. Here are five we are sure we’ll here more than once?
I am currently reading John Sayles’ massive (955 page) novel A Moment in the Sun. .It is in every sense a big book focusing on the United States at the turn of the 20th Century by focusing on dramatic events including the Alaskan Gold Rush, the Spanish-American War, it’s lingering aftermath, the Philippine insurrection against American intervention and the 1898 Wilmington North Carolina race riots ... But there’s something about the style of Sayles’ book that I think writers ought to reflect on.
I never met my Uncle Cecil. He died June 17, 1944, just over two and a half years before I was born. But I thought a lot about him as we took a few days off over Memorial Day Weekend. That was appropriate because Uncle Cecil, known to everyone in the family as Squeak, was killed in Normandy, along with so many other American soldiers, near the town of Sainte Mere Eglise, eleven days after D-day. We are working on a second edition of Squeak’s War: Letters from the Front Lines of World War II, a book that travelled around the family in a type-written form for more than sixty years before it was rescued and published as a hardback book. It consists of the letters he sent home from the time he was drafted in 1942 to training at Ft. Ord, near Monterey, California, Camp Crowder, Missouri, and Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and front line service in North Africa and Sicily before landing in Normandy.
The general rule in scanning photos for inclusion in a print book is that they be scanned at a minimum resolution of 300 dpi. What’s important to understand is that means that the quality of the scan will be acceptable if it is printed at exactly the same size as the original. A 4”x6” photo scanned at 300dpi can be printed at 4”x 6” or smaller in the book. But that’s only part of the story. If you want to enlarge the photo size in the book the original must be scanned at a much higher resolution. The Scantips.com website gives a good summary of the basics of the relationship of scanning dpi and print size in an article Pixels, Printers and Video – What’s With That?