Writing Your Story
Many people are willing and able to write their own personal and family histories. For those so inclined, here are some guidelines for getting started.
Artwork from my mother's book
GUIDELINES FOR WRITING PERSONAL HISTORY
Be honest. Don’t worry about your image as much as showing the lessons you’ve learned. Remember that there is no story if there isn’t conflict. There is no lesson learned going from point A to point B by people who start out, and end, perfect. Show that you are human and have changed and grown throughout your life.
Your goal is to let people know what YOUR life is like, where you’ve walked, how you’ve faced your challenges, and what sense you make of your experiences.
Start With a Hook
Instead of starting at your birth, begin your story with a hook; an interesting mini-story; something wonderful or something dreadful—a high or low—that will create interest and hold your audience.
Make an Outline
Decide what is important and what is not. Make an outline to help you decide what things to include in your story and what clutter to leave out. (At a future date, I’ll write about some different approaches you might use in writing your story.)
Use Sensory Detail
As you describe places, houses, people, and other things, make them come alive by telling how a thing looked, smelled, felt, sounded, or tasted.
Don’t Forget to Include Your Feelings
You may have gone through a series of difficult or wonderful experiences, but of what use are they to you or me unless you tell how you felt about them? Share your insights.
Tell or Soft Pedal the Hard Truth?
Robert Walsh, in his Deseret News article “Author Offers Tips on Making Personal History a Page-turner,” (2010) tells how Dawn Parrett Thurston, a writer of personal history, and a presenter at BYU Education Week, shared ten points to consider when the truth is difficult to tell.
1. It’s importance to your story.
2. Your purpose in revealing the information.
3. Your audience.
4. Your family.
5. Your tone of writing. Be fair and tell both sides of the story, or show both sides of the person.
6. Your tolerance for criticism, rejection, and the possibility of being disinherited. “Tell the truth in love.”
7. Make sure your facts are correct.
8. Avoid moralizing.
9. Let your readers form their own conclusions. [Here’s where your opinion is better saved.]
10. Don’t exaggerate.
There are other ways to handle the family skeletons. You can tell only the bare bones of an unhappy detail, or only mention it once, or leave it out altogether, or allude to it enough to make sense of what you are writing. Just so you know, posterity loves the family secrets; the skeletons; the shocking truth. You can use them as an inspiration to show how people make mistakes, repent, pick up the pieces of their lives, and move on.
Two other things: Be concise--don’t keep repeating yourself. And leave out as many adverbs and adjectives as possible. They are usually filler. Trim all the fat you can in your writing.
Good Luck and enjoy!