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EXERCISE YOUR WRITING MUSCLES
WITH STORY-BUILDING STRATEGIES
Step One: Begin by organizing the documentation you have assembled.
Step Two: Build a solid family tree.
Step Three: Search through your documents, sources and family tree for a compelling story idea.
Step Four: Incorporate any DNA results that may shed more light on the subject.
Step Five: Include data from sources outside your immediate research. Check with relatives or published records for additional avenues of information.
Step Six: Double check your details.
Step Seven: Using a timeline, fill in the gaps with historical context.
Step Eight: Write your story.
Remember, the only way to become proficient in a skill is to exercise regularly and keep practicing. Writing is a skill that can be learned if you keep exercising those story-writing muscles.
- Drop hints or tidbits along the storyline to keep the reader involved. By adding anecdotes, suspense, or humor, your story will move along nicely.
- Avoid long, drawn-out paragraphs – keep the story moving along in brief sections. This allows the reader to “take a breath” so-to-speak, and resume reading.
- Be sure to include some details to frame the story, such as vivid descriptions of the locale, weather, or event. Your goal is to place your reader into the story by employing descriptive narrative.
- Resist overworking your story. Read what you’ve written out loud to hear if it flows or gets bogged down along the way. Maybe there is something you left out, or can cut. Sometimes short and sweet is better than long and drawn-out!
- Remember, there is NO right way to write your story. Just write what you know, as if you were recounting a past event to family and friends.
Remember to start writing and keep writing!
SIX SECRETS OF SUCCESSFUL STORYTELLING
According to Sunny Morton, we all have stories to tell about “first loves, second chances, lessons learned, triumphs won, prizes lost and faith rekindled.” However, as story tellers, we are not all created equal. To avoid falling into the deadly trap of the boring story, Sunny has six secrets to help you create attention-grabbing tales:
- Story Anatomy – “A story is a meaningful narrative with a beginning, a middle and a conclusion. In its simplest form, a story is what you wanted, how you struggled, and what you realized out of that struggle.” Our most powerful memories can be triggered by sensory echoes such as smell, sound, fear and joy. It is the writer’s job to ‘flesh out’ these memories to create a complete story.
- Single Storyline – Everyone’s life is composed of a string of stories like “pearls on a necklace,” and we need to focus on one pearl – one powerful memory or episode – at a time. Pick a topic and run with it, don’t wander away from your storyline.
- Use Your Voice – Tell your stories using your natural speech rhythms and patterns. “Simple, direct, emotional, visual language . . . creates pictures and feelings . . . “ producing your truest story. One suggestion is to read your story out loud to see if it sounds like you. If it doesn’t, rewrite it until it does.
- Right Place – “Every story has a timeline, but that doesn’t mean we have to tell events in order.” Find a ‘scene’ or a ‘riveting moment’ to hook your reader and then fill in the details.
- Juicy Details – “Include the details you remember most vividly.” But, don’t go overboard; be selective with the details you include. You want to give glimpses into the event or individual not get buried in minutia.
- Your Point – Successful storytelling depends on one thing; “your story has to mean something.” Unless your story has a ‘satisfactory conclusion’ you don’t have a complete story.
“Search your memories, clear your throat, and start stringing those pearls.”
The Writer's Block
How to Overcome Your Fear of Writing
5 TIPS FOR WRITING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY
- KNOW YOUR PURPOSE. What do you hope to accomplish? A summary of all your research? Share a family legacy? Pass down a family story? Celebrate an ethnic heritage? Commemorate a family reunion? Who will be the audience for your story?
- MAKE A PLAN. Outline? Timeline? Framework? Writing schedule? Use whatever works for you.
- SAY IT WITH PICTURES. Use photos, graphs, documents, maps, charts, genealogy reports, etc. to enhance your story and keep you and your reader engaged. Find a comfortable balance between images and words. Brief descriptions and short paragraphs will keep your audience interested.
- BEGIN IN THE MIDDLE. Or, at the end. If you don't know how to begin, just start writing where you like, you can arrange it later. That's the joy of cut and paste! Choose a point in your story that interests you and your story will unfold from there.
- TAKE YOUR TIME. But, set a deadline as a motivational aid. In time for the family reunion, a special birthday, anniversary, wedding or the birth of the next generation. Allow enough time so you don't feel rushed, it'll cut down on stress and make writing a fun project, not an obligation.