Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Writing Interesting Stories

This last week I attended Education Week and one of my favorite classes was taught by Dawn and Morris Thurston called How to Write a Life Story People Will Want to Read. I learned a lot of tips and I wanted to share some of them. They talked about “showing”, not “telling”. Here is a short explanation from their web site, “Show, Don't Tell--You can tell someone how to wash the dishes (fill the sink with warm, soapy water, scrub the dishes with a sponge, rinse, etc.), or you can show them by demonstrating what you mean. We all know that showing communicates far more effectively than merely telling. The same principle applies to writing. You can tell your readers that your sister was depressed or you can show the depression by describing your sister's messy house, her inattention to her appearance, and failure to answer the phone--all examples that illustrate depression. Try to avoid summary statements. Use plenty of illustrative details to demonstrate how things look and feel.”

Here is a good example of showing from a story called The Hessian by Carol Enos that I found on Dawn’s blog: “Johann’s chest heaved; his breath came in desperate gasps. He had been running all night only steps ahead of his pursuers. Eight hours earlier, he had slipped out of his bedroll, crept silently at first, and moved from tree to tree, taking advantage of the early March nightfall. There was no moon and the trees were a dark curtain that could hide a fleeing soldier. He feared his pounding heart would alert the sentries, but they seemed unaware that a threat was behind their lines, not in front. An easy escape seemed assured. And then the feral dogs that had attached themselves to the army began to howl. Johann bolted. He was young, fast, motivated and angry. He had been caught trying to get away once before. He would not face the gauntlet of cat o’nine tails whips ever again. He would die first.”

By showing instead of telling I see pictures in my head. Great tip Dawn and Morris. Thanks for teaching us.

Chris Stevenson

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Act Now Before They Are Gone

I went to a family reunion on Saturday for my Porter relatives. It was great to get together again, but there were several people that usually come but who were missing. Most of them pass away during this last year. It really hit me hard that several of them had not recorded their life stories and now they are lost for ever. Then I remembered about my neighbor, Dwaine H. Another friend used his video camera to record about three hours of interviews of his life and then just a few months later he passed away. Dwaine’s family were extremely grateful for this recorded history before it was too late.

So today’s post is to encourage everyone who reads this to contact the older members of your extended family and help them record their unique life stories before it is too late. Use a video camera, a digital recorder, or computer to preserve their histories. Do it this week. You will be so glad that you did.

Chris Stevenson

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Normal vs. Unusual

One of the challenges of writing your own history is figuring out what to put in and what to leave out. When we read someone else’s history, it is very easy to pick out the things that are interesting to us. When we are looking at our own life experiences it is much harder choosing those things that will be of interest to others. Usually, we just think of the unusual or spectacular things in our life. But the regular, day to day activities at different stages of your life will be very interesting to others. Then when you share something unusual it will stand out. For instance, when you are sharing about your youth you could write about the time that you got a ride to school because you broke your foot. But it would be better to first explain that you normally walked to school each day and what it was like and then share the one week that you got a ride and the next three weeks that you walked on crutches. This will make the experience stand out more, but it also gives the reader a better understanding of what your life was really like each day. Paint a clear picture of what life was like in a normal day and do this for each of the stages in your life. It may not seem to interesting to you (because it was normal for you) but it really will be interesting to your readers and help them to know the real you. Keep writing!

Chris Stevenson

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Important Work

Here is a short reminder of how important it is to publish family histories. Think back to all the things that you learned from your family growing up. They passed on to you many great (and some not so great) habits, information, and attitudes that have made you who you are today. This was a huge investment of time and love from your parents and other family members who helped raise you. Now, you are in a position to pass on to future generations the important events, stories, and feelings from your family before they are lost forever. It is well worth all of the time and effort to write and share your family history. I strongly encourage you to keep going until it is finished. You’ll be very glad that you did.

Chris Stevenson