Write Your Family Story – Part 6 – Choices
If you decide to tell your story by writing it as family fiction, you’ve got choices to make. Many of these choices should precede your narrative summary writing.
You’ll need to decide who you want to feature in your story. Who’s your protagonist, your hero? Stories can be told from more than one person’s viewpoint, but generally it’s good to stick to a single point-of-view character. That is, one person through whose eyes the story will unfold.
Of course you’ll write about many people, but they’ll all be presented as seen by your protagonist. You’ll tell only those things that your protagonist can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think.
Your story will feature many people, places, and events; the potential for those is limitless. So before you begin writing, you’ll need to decide what you want to tell. What made you decide to write this story in the first place? There were probably some interesting family members or events that grabbed your attention, that made you think there’s a story here that needs telling.
Or maybe you just want to tell your family’s story in a more interesting way. To do that, you’ll need to feature compelling events. When I read about the sadness that permeated my mother’s family when her little brother died at Christmastime, I knew that story had to be detailed and expanded.
To begin, you’ll want to discover all you can about each of your characters. Reflect on what you already know. Talk with family and friends to learn more. Learn more by searching Ancestry.com or other genealogy websites. Gather all the facts that you can find. This is your source material. Your job is to pump life into it.
Once you’ve gathered these facts, develop your characters. You’ll tell about family members you know or have heard about. But if you write your story as family fiction, you’ll want to create other characters, too.
Write a character sketch for each real or imagined person in your story. Tell about how they talked — the language they used. If they were professionals it will be different than language used in the factories and fields. Tell about their temperaments. Were they gregarious, silent, or funny? Did they speak in full sentences, clip their sentences, or contract their words? Were they cultured or homey in their language and actions? Did they hold grudges or were they the forgiving type? Were they aggressive, quiet, domineering, overbearing, condescending, or sarcastic? Develop these personality traits and more.
How old were they? What did they look like? Were they tall, short, fat, large-boned, slight of build, or short legged? Did they smile or frown? Were they happy or dour most of the time? Tell about the way they dressed, too. Who were their friends, their enemies? What foods did they like, dislike? Where did they eat — home or away?
Where did they live? What did they do for entertainment? Most importantly, what exciting, fun things did they do? What made you want to write about them? The possibilities are endless, but you should think about and detail those you choose to portray.
Emphasize relationships, too. Throughout the O’Shaughnessy Chronicles, Ruby and Catherine’s relationship remains consistent and predictable — Ruby the assertive, dominant older sister; Catherine the dutiful, subservient younger one.
If you want to write scenes and dialogue based on real-life family events, but don’t have as much information as you’d like about what family members actually said or did, make it up. Fill in the holes with fiction. But keep their language and actions consistent with their personalities as you know them.
Start at the top: Write Your Family Story Series Introduction