Another day and on to new day for the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge. On day 9, Lynn talks about re-constructing the past and the dilemma of writing about something you haven’t witnessed. It isn’t right to just make stuff up and call it non-fiction. I haven’t gotten a complete grasp on this myself yet. I like what Lynn said:
It is impossible for us to know the exact details of an event that occurred in our ancestor’s life without having witnessed it. Even if you did witness it or other relatives witnessed it, our perception is skewed. One person’s perception of an event can differ from another’s. There are many truths to a story, and many versions of the same story. Witnesses can often see the same event in two varying ways. So even with witness in hand we can’t know for sure what the truth is. We all witness an event through our own perceptions, bias and experiences. However, what we can’t deny are the facts.
While we can’t make stuff up we can be creative in the way we present the facts while we are truthful, accurate and respectful of those involved. Sounds like a tall order. I have no idea yet how I’m going to accomplish that tasks.
For today’s writing exercise I did some more free-writing. Lynn suggests choosing an internal want and then an event that may represent that inner desire. While she applied this to ourselves I decided to try applying it to my Dad. So I wrote about my Dad’s desires to be part of something bigger and I focused on the events that led up to him being a part of setting up the Underwater Swimmers School, what he calls being a “plank owner.” I think I’m getting a little more comfortable with free-writing.
Because I write memoir, as well as family history, I know how true this is that everyone sees a story, remembers a memory, differently. While it’s good to keep an open mind about interpretations, it’s good also to try to place the context, the time period and the place because that is so important.
Excellent point, so much of the meaning of actions etc. can only be interpreted with any kind of accuracy by understanding the time and the culture as well as the person. This isn’t a simple process when you take it beyond the telling of bare facts and into something that is much more interesting as well as meaningful. I’m just learning all this stuff. It is good to hear from someone with experience. It seems there is a delicate balance to all of it. Thanks!