Writing Tip

nypl-digitalcollections-ba309cea-94f2-4288-e040-e00a18066c61-001-wDigging Deeper into Personal History

Even though I get a lot of inspiration from reading about important people in history, I still find intriguing stories within my own family.  Both sides of my family come from West Virginia, meaning I know a lot of stories about my extended family going back generations and I come from a long line of storytellers.

My dad has enough hilarious tales about what he did as a kid in the 1940’s and ’50’s to make at least a trilogy.  My maternal grandfather told all kinds of stories about growing up on a farm with seven brothers and sisters in the 1910’s and 1920’s.  I had a great-great-grandfather die in the infamous Civil War prison camp at Andersonville.  If I wrote historical fiction, this would be a story worth researching.  I have a great-grandfather who worked as a carpenter  in Moundsville, West Virginia, beginning in the 1880’s.  He helped support his widowed mother and a sister and her children because the sister’s husband had abandoned them.  He finally married, or I wouldn’t be here, when he was 47 years old.  His bride was 19, and they had two children together.

Their marriage was always stirred my curiosity.  How did they meet?  Had my great-grandfather always wanted to get married but didn’t feel he could because he was already supporting his relatives?  Did finding a wife come as a surprise?  Why did my great-grandmother want to marry someone so much older than she was?  Why did my great-grandfather want to marry someone so much younger?  What did their families think?  Their friends and neighbors?

Even though their story took a place a hundred years ago, their storyline is so good it can be translated to any time.  Placing it in a modern context would give the characters different reasons for getting married.  Such a May-December marriage would also be viewed differently by family and friends.  There is so much to work with here.  But I wouldn’t want to use my great-grandparents’s names and exact situation and fictionalize it.  Since I didn’t know them, I wouldn’t like to put words in their mouths and misrepresent them.

So ask grandparent, parents, any relatives for family stories.  Not only will you get great writing ideas, but you will gain a connection to your family’s past that makes your family unique.

Writing Tip

Placeholder ImageOld Photos

I double-majored in history and English.  Some people thought that was an old combination, but I always explained it this way, “One is about real stories.  The other is about made-up ones.”  The disciplines seemed related to me.

I have never seriously considered writing historical fiction, but my friend Sandra Merville Hart does and she has an article on how to use old photos for research. Click here to see it.

I have been interested in the late Victorian/ Edwardian ages since I discovered Sherlock Holmes at seventeen.  One reason, as another writer pointed out, is because the Victorian age is as far back in history as you can go and still find every day life somewhat similar to our modern era.  I’m also interested in it because it was the last hurrah of a way of life that disappeared during World War I.  One of the best books I have read on this period was actually a photo album.  Queen Victoria’s Grandchildren by Lance Salway shows photos with short histories of all 40 of her grandchildren.  The book would be confusing without the photos because it covers so many people.  But the photos also let these people become real to me.  Seeing their faces helps me make a connection to them.  Which is one of the goals of historical fiction.

I won’t be posting again until after Thanksgiving.  I’ll talk more about how history has directly affected my writing.  Happy Thanksgiving!

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