With all our collected memories and family stories, most of us aren’t sure how to choose which family stories to write.
The abundance of material presents a problem common to family history storytellers and memoirists. Often, it’s paralyzing. How can we write all those stories without a starting place?
We need a filter or funnel of sorts that can help us go from the plethora of stories we’ve brainstormed to the drip of stories that we’ll write one at a time.
The good news is that by being selective about which family stories to write, you’ll improve your final product, as Lisa Louise Cook writes in 6 Tips to Create Family History Books They Can’t Put Down.
My grandma had many funny stories, but there just wasn’t room for all of them. I picked only the best of the best… I made sure some of the most compelling stories were at the beginning: if you can capture their interest in the first three pages, you’ll have them hooked for the entire book.
Start by looking at why you want to tell your own or family stories.
Examining why you want to tell stories will help you choose which family stories to write. I’m assuming we’d all tick off “to document the past.” Let’s dig a little deeper. What moved you to want to preserve these stories?
Was it a particular story you stumbled across? A chapter of your past that you’ve been yearning to tell? Papers or diaries from loved ones? A recent epiphany about your family? A death in the family that sparked a realization of loss?
These types of events can impact our motivations. Shine a bright light on your motivations. Yes, plural. You probably have a more passionate desire than the need to preserve and document.
Look at the following and think if they apply to you and your impetus to share episodes of the past. Do you want to
- Brag (about family exploits or your research)?
- Advocate, even posthumously?
- Create understanding?
- Impact others emotionally?
- Move people to action?
- Get something emotional and heavy off of your chest?
Which motives are the strongest? Which ones resonate most with you?
Consider starting with stories which fulfill these desires.
For example, I started writing family stories after my mother died. I think I was looking to connect with her by sharing stories. That blossomed into telling a lot of family stories.
However, the things that are the closest to your heart may not be the easiest stories to address.
Other Ideas to Help Choose which Family Stories to Write
Now that you’ve hopefully narrowed your list a little, the following questions may help you sort your ideas into “write more or less immediately,” “Idea needs work or research,” and “I’m not quite ready” categories.
- As you contemplate each story idea, ask yourself if you have enough information to write the story or if you need to do more research or interview relatives? Remember, you may not find additional primary records, but you may find more context about your family member’s or ancestor’s circumstances.
- Which stories could you tell most naturally? These might be the stories that you’ve already told at family reunions. (Don’t worry about the lack of originality. If people like retelling them at every family gathering, they’ll enjoy reading them too.)
- Think about your (intended) audience. Which stories would interest them most? Which ones would resonate with them? For instance, a youngster might be more connected to the ancestor he or she was named after than one they’ve never heard of.
- What’s your bigger plan? Which of your stories would be a good foundation for final product? If you plan on publishing a complete family history book with abstracts about each ancestor, you might want to start with one side of the family. If you’re trying to inspire other family members to contribute stories, humorous stories might make a better starting place.
- As you look at your smaller list of “contenders,” does a particular theme emerge? Would this make the progression of stores easier for your readers to digest?
- Consider the tips in Where to Start Telling Your Stories. For instance, if you need oral history input from elderly family members, the “needs research” stories might take on a higher priority.
- Which stories do you feel most passionate about?
- Are there stories you’re not emotionally prepared to confront?