More thoughts on writing family stories

I’m beginning to get down to planning my talk to the local Family History group on writing the stories of their  ancestors; they’ve done the research, sometimes mountains of it but how do they present it in an accessible way to others, to their family, to their own descendent!

I have talked to this group before, about different aspects of sharing their research – they seemed jolly pleased with what I suggested but I realise that they understood what to do, but not how to do it. Most of the people I’ll be talking to haven’t done any creative writing at all since they left school (which in some cases is a very long time ago!) They haven’t written anything imaginatively for more than a few decades, and I get the feeling that many of them think they actually can’t do it… my response will be – yes you can!!

I’ll start with the six/seven P’s:

  • People
  • Place
  • Plot
  • POV
  • Purpose
  • Pace
  • Polish (making it shiny and bright, not coming from Poland!)

People – for the purposes of writing in an engaging way it’s important in any piece not to have too many characters, and too many characters with similar names There may be many children in a family, but in writing a story some of the older and younger ones could just be referred to without names, eldest brother, older sister, baby of the family etc. Their actual details can be included as notes or a postscript at the end of the story. The back story and future story don’t have to be included – they can be written about another time, or again popped into the postscript. Salient details can be woven in – they might walk past the church where they were baptised or married, their occupation can be referred to through what they are wearing, or where they have come home from, or in conversation with other ‘characters.

Place – these days we are so lucky because although we might have photographic evidence of past lives, there are  the vast resources of the internet to help us ‘see’ what old factories and mills, forgotten farms and villages, were like when they were in use and active places of work., We can follow street maps and ‘visit’ the houses where our people once lived – even if the actual buildings are no loner there, sometimes the street plan is on the same ‘footprint’.

The other aspects of writing creatively – who’s telling the story, what the theme is etc begin to fall into place once the protagonists and their setting have been outlined. There are other things to think about too – what the weather was like, if it was a time of good harvests or droughts, if there was a war going on in another country, what food was available and what meals people made – all can add colour and interest to a story.

Some of the collateral detail will be made up, imagined – and that’s fine! A prologue or introduction can make that clear; you’re not telling fibs or trying to deceive, you’re trying to pull together what you know and fashion it into something which is open and accessible – something you’re sharing to tell the story of the people whose lives you have so meticulously researched!

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