Thursday, May 27, 2010

Family History as Story Material

Don't forget, dear friends, my May 31 prize giveaway is drawing near!!! Each comment on a May blog enters you in the drawing. Signing up as a follower counts a second entry. Be sure and include your email address and tell me if you also signed up as a follower. I'll draw early on June 1st.

Now to talking about family history as story material. You realize, I'm sure, that I don't want you to write a book in which all your relatives appear in their most annoying form. No, we do have to continue to be a part of our family. My intent is to suggest that events in the life of someone in your family may spark an idea for a character or a plot. For instance, my grandmother once told me a short anecdote about a girl her age in her little village in Tennessee. The girl had a horrid life and the other kids taunted her mercilessly. The girl quit school rather than be subjected to the ridicule. My grandmother's story touched me and I thought how nice it would have been if that little girl had found a better life after her years of misery. That sparked the character of Pearl in THE MOST UNSUITABLE WIFE.  

Darling 1 has decided to write a nonfiction book about an event that happened to my grandfather, who had to shoot someone to defend himself and his family. Unfortunately, the man he killed was his wife's uncle. Not a pleasant story, but one that began years before at the end of the Civil War with family animosity. Apparently, my grandparents were from feuding families and left Georgia for Texas in an attempt to escape the anymosity.

I am amazed at the number of historical writers who use events in their family. My friend Jeanmarie Hamilton has a fascinating family tree that includes many early Texas settlers. Ashley Kath-Bilsky's ancestor was an early Pinkerton agent.

Family lore can apply to contemporary writers, too. How many of us see tragic things happen to relatives and recognize a chain of events as a cause. Why not rewrite life and create a happy ending? 

What about your family history? I'll bet you have the seeds for innumerable stories.


Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. said...

IF you shake your family tree and a few story ideas don't fall out, you just aren't shaking hard enough!

It does help to pick up one that is far enough back that all the principles are dead.

Dawn Ius said...

Oh yes, there are wonderful and controversial and thrilling and fun family stories if I shake my family tree hard enough :-)

Caroline Clemmons said...

You don't have to shake our family tree very hard before lots of story ideas fall into your lap.