Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mining Family History for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction

Mine your history for stories
Everyone has family of one sort or another, and most people can mine their family history for stories. But developing a story for fiction is different than you may think.

Going through personal or family history for story ideas doesn't have to mean an arduous search of archives. To select a unique idea worth developing, ask yourself these questions:
  • What person in my family (including me) do I find most interesting, and why?
  • What turning point occurred in this person's life that forever changed it?
  • What pivotal incident led to the event the one without which the turning point wouldn't have happened?
  • What was the main outcome of the event?
  • What was the most important consequence of the event, especially for that individual?
To fictionalize this story and elevate it to a more literary level, ask yourself these questions:
  • What if the person was of a different race, ethnic background and/or gender?
  • What if the turning point occurred at an earlier or a later stage of the person's life?
  • What if the pivotal incident occurred in a different setting, or was a different incident altogether?
  • What if the main the main outcome of the event was the opposite or vastly different from what happened?
 Making these changes will change the story and its ending, enabling it to become uniquely yours. The key to this approach is having some affinity for and/or experience in how you answer the questions. For example, if you change the setting, do you have some knowledge of the new locale? Truth is, after all, still stranger than fiction.

Tip: To add spice to your story, consider this adage from John Updike. There's the story you're afraid to tell others and the story you're afraid to tell yourself. That's the one to write. What aspect of your story are you afraid to tell?

Happy writing!