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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

The Debate Continues: Add or Avoid Dialogue in Family Histories

In the world of genealogy, a persistent debate revolves around including dialogue in family history narratives. As we delve into the topic of writing family history, we'll explore the insights of Carol Baxter, an acclaimed author.

The Dialogue Dilemma

In the post Avoid Writing Dialogue in a Family History, I shared my thoughts on whether dialogue should be included in family histories.

Following its release, it seemed that I stood alone in my perspective. After all, who was I?

I'm a mere YouTuber with over 120 drafts about my ancestors in a year, having published two of them.

Had I not started two YouTube channels, chances are those drafts would have been published by now.

But, other family history writing educators advocate inventing speech to make family histories more engaging. I've read complaints about my recommendation to exclude dialogue since I don't have a degree in creative writing.

Is it possible that I'm wrong? Should you add dialogue to your family history?

To hear Carol's insights about writing dialogue, watch the full interview.

The Pitfalls of Creating Dialogue

During a recent interview, the internationally acclaimed author, Carol Baxter, shared her thoughts about this debate. She emphasized that the problem with inventing dialogue is the inherent difficulty of accurately capturing the exact words used by our ancestors. Baxter illustrates this challenge by highlighting a simple example.

What happens when you say "hello" to another person?

They could say:

  • "Greetings,"

  • "You,"

  • " 'sup,"

  • "Hi,"

  • "Howdy,"

  • or even "dude."

Each individual may have a unique greeting, making it virtually impossible to recreate a relative's exact words.

Furthermore, planning a conversation in advance rarely goes as intended. Even when we anticipate certain emotions or outcomes, the spontaneity of real-life dialogue often deviates from our expectations. If that's the case, why would we attempt to write dialogue for our ancestors?

Attempting to write dialogue means veering away from the truth, essentially creating a work of fiction rather than a genuine portrayal of the person in question.

If fact, Carol says, "when writing dialogue for ancestors, you can be certain that you'll get it wrong."

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Conveying Authenticity and Personality

By avoiding the inclusion of fabricated dialogue, you have a greater opportunity to convey authenticity and capture the essence of the individuals you're writing about.

Instead of using your own words to communicate your ancestor's thoughts and emotions, focus on presenting them through the lens of your research. This approach allows readers to form a deeper connection with the relative and correctly understand their character.

Add Dialogue or Avoid Dialogue

When writing your family history, the decision of whether or not to include dialogue is a crucial one. By considering the insights of an accomplished author like Carol Baxter, you can make an informed choice. Remember, the goal is to create narratives that resonate with readers, conveying the true essence of your ancestors.

Do you agree or disagree with her perspective on dialogue in family histories?

Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.

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