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  • Writer's pictureDevon Noel Lee

Advice You Need to Hear to Write Relatable Family Histories

Do you wish you could write engaging and relatable family histories but feel hindered by word choice? Are you afraid to express certain things in your story because you're unsure of others' opinions?

If you're nodding, you've come to the right place.

During an interview with Carol Baxter, author of "The Fabulous Flying Mrs. Miller: The True Story of Australia's First Internationally Famous Aviatrix," I learned amazing tips that will help you write relatable family histories.

Journey From Hobby to Career

The interview beings with Carol recounting her journey to becoming an internationally-acclaimed published genealogist.

During the early '80s in Australia, there was no established industry. Undeterred, Carol majored in linguistics, English, and psychology while conducting her family history research. She even embarked on a journey to London, immersing herself in record offices across Britain. These experiences laid the foundation for her future endeavors.

After gaining substantial knowledge and expertise, Carol recognized the need to turn her extensive research into engaging prose. While initially adopting an encyclopedic-expository writing style, Carol yearned to infuse her narratives with immediacy and relatability.

The Epiphany: Embracing Relatable Character Narration

During a moment of clarity, Carol realized the power of allowing characters to take center stage in her storytelling. Rather than relying solely on a detached narrator, she wanted readers to hear and see the characters directly, immersing themselves in their lives. This shift in perspective brought an immediacy to her writing, making it more compelling and relatable.

Despite her commitment to factual accuracy, Carol used the tools of fiction writing to enhance the readability of her non-fiction works. She researched extensively to uncover details about the weather, dialogues, and other aspects that enriched the narrative.

The result was "An Irresistible Temptation: The true story of Jane New and a Colonial Political Sex Scandal." This genealogy received unexpected high praise from book critics and revealed the nature of Carol's unique writing style.

To hear more about this journey, listen to the full interview.

Carol's Best Tips for Writing Relatable Family Histories

During the interview, Carol emphasized this key point: "I don't make it up! I use the tools of fiction writing to make non-fiction interesting."

By leveraging the tools of fiction writing and embracing a creative mindset, you can breathe life into non-fiction accounts and engage your audience on a deeper level.

Harnessing Fiction Techniques:

While formal training in creative writing can be advantageous, what truly matters is your passion and excitement as a writer. Let's delve into some valuable advice to enhance your writing style and create compelling family history narratives.

  1. Embrace the Story Flow: While facts are essential, organizing them in a chronological or detached manner might not create an engaging narrative. Instead, focus on crafting a cohesive story flow that takes readers on a journey through time and connects them emotionally with the characters and events.

  2. Unleash Your Expertise: As a family historian, you are the expert in your research. While it's crucial to maintain accuracy and adhere to facts, don't be afraid to present your own judgments and interpretations. Through extensive research and understanding, you can provide unique insights into the lives of your ancestors.

  3. Avoid Overqualification: While it's essential to qualify certain statements, be cautious of overqualification. Constantly using words like "almost," "likely," and "probably" can distract readers and break the flow of the story. Strive to balance providing credible information and maintaining the reader's immersion in the narrative. Embrace your role as an author, trust your expertise, and make decisive judgments where appropriate.

↪️ Do you want to write a family history book?

Grab your copy of this FREE Writing Guide:

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Enhance Your Family History Writing Style

To enrich your family history narratives, consider incorporating the following writing techniques:

  1. Descriptive Writing: Descriptive writing adds depth and sensory experience to your stories. Instead of relying solely on factual accounts, transport your readers by vividly describing the settings, people, and events. Engage their senses by incorporating strong verbs, adjectives, and adverbs to bring the story to life. Consider the sights, sounds, smells, and emotions your ancestors would have experienced, allowing readers to fully immerse themselves in the narrative.

  2. Storytelling Ingredients: Transforming facts into engaging stories involves using storytelling ingredients. By employing narrative techniques, you can convert generic accounts into immersive experiences. Instead of stating that your ancestors "walked up the gangway," make judgments and craft a more engaging description. Carol provides clear examples of what to do instead in the video.

  3. Word Choice: Choose your words thoughtfully to maintain reader engagement. Avoid non-words and throwaway phrases that hinder the narrative's impact. Develop a word bank to expand your vocabulary and find alternative terms for commonly used verbs like walk, said, moved, etc.

Start Writing Relatable Family Histories Now

Writing a family history is a unique opportunity to preserve and share your ancestors' stories. By incorporating fiction techniques, embracing your expertise, and enhancing your writing style, you can captivate readers and create narratives that connect them to the past.

Remember, as the author, your role is not only to inform but to engage, inspire, and bring the past to life. So, pick up your pen, immerse yourself in the research, and let your ancestors' stories unfold in the captivating pages of your family history narrative.

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