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Chrisla
06-28-2008, 11:28 AM
I've completed and printed a family history for family members. They are so fascinated with the story that they are encouraging me to write it for publication. But I don't know how to structure it. I've struggled for weeks, and can't find a happy solution. So I'm asking for suggestions.

More than half of the book is about my own experiences. But the rest happened to other family members, some of it before I was born, or when I was too young to claim to remember the details. Much of it is oral history that I heard so many times as a child that I memorized the stories. in fact, they are so entwined with my own memories, it's sometimes difficult to pull them apart.

In the book I printed for family, I could just say "this is what they told me," and write those portions of the story from an omniscient point of view. But I'm not sure I can get away with that approach if I write for publication, especially if I want to write those stories as scenes, rather than narration.

Is it acceptable to use an omniscient point of view for part of a book, then switch to first person? Or would I save myself a lot of frustration by just writing the story as fiction, based on the real story, and write from the omniscient point of view, including my own character?

Any suggestions?

jerrywaxler
06-28-2008, 08:19 PM
Chrisla,

this is SUCH an interesting question. There is rarely an obvious way to convert a life, even a fascinating one, into a readable story.

Think of it as a thousand or ten thousand hours of film clips and now you have to edit it down and turn it into something a stranger can follow. Like any story, you need a character arc, beats, obstacles, satisfying conclusions.

To understand how other people have done it, read lots of memoirs. And keep looking for the outline of a book you yourself would buy at the bookstore.

Jerry

Chrisla
06-28-2008, 08:41 PM
For the most part, I've done all the above. Those who have read the book find it easy to follow, tell me they can't put it down, that I've brought the characters to life, that it is an "awesome story," etc. Even my 19 year old granddaughter tells me she really identifies with the characters and approaches new chapters with trepidation because she knows I lost several brothers and sisters, and she LIKES all these characters.

But these readers have a vested interest -- they're reading about their own family, even if they never knew most of them. And several have wondered how I could remember so much that happened when I was so young.

I think my problem is that my book isn't really a memoir -- it's the story of a family and I wasn't in all the action. So I may have to cut a lot of good scenes and rewrite them as narrative background. And, of course, I'll continue to look for books like this one.

Thanks for your interest and taking time to offer some suggestions.

June Casagrande
06-28-2008, 10:22 PM
I agree that this is a really interesting question. So many ways to do it, so few ways to know which is best.

One idea: Put it all in the context of what it means to you. Learning your great-grandfather fought in WWI, knowing your great-grandmother lived on $5 a week. How does learning that affect you? Your relationships with them?

I think this is one of many approaches that would be of interest to readers. I think that it's human nature for readers to filter others' stories through the prism of self. That universal connection of "relating" to protagonists, etc. And, when it comes to family trees, I think a lot of people find the subject interesting because of issues to do with self. Telling me how your family history touched/affected you could tap into those same questions in me.

Just a thought.

Chrisla
06-28-2008, 11:08 PM
One idea: Put it all in the context of what it means to you. Learning your great-grandfather fought in WWI, knowing your great-grandmother lived on $5 a week. How does learning that affect you? Your relationships with them?

I think this is one of many approaches that would be of interest to readers. I think that it's human nature for readers to filter others' stories through the prism of self. That universal connection of "relating" to protagonists, etc. And, when it comes to family trees, I think a lot of people find the subject interesting because of issues to do with self. Telling me how your family history touched/affected you could tap into those same questions in me.

Just a thought.

And it's a good thought, June. I suspect part of my problem may be that my mother's story in itself is really the backbone of the whole family structure, so I'm trying to tell her story, as well as mine, in the same book, because they are so entwined. And, of course, her story includes fascinating interactions with other family members.

I understand now why life stories are so difficult, because neither story is as compelling by itself, and I can't presume to know my mother's mind well enough to write her story from her viewpoint.

I'm beginning to wish this whole thing would just go away. I have two more stories to write, but everytime I sit down to work on them, I pull up this one, instead. I stare at it for a while, make a few false starts, then stare at it again. I'm wasting so much time, but I can't get it out of my head!

Thanks for your interest. I'll keep the relationship issue in mind the next time I pull it up and stare. Maybe, eventually, with all the good input, one of those false starts will turn out to be the right path!