Writing Challenge: day 44

Today I tackled day #14 in The Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge. That makes it the halfway mark. Yeah! I’m learning lots on this journey. The topic for today, “Re-Creating Past Conversations” is basically how to add dialogue without crossing over the line into fiction. Here is a little of what Lynn had to say about sources for re-creating dialogue:

  • Notes from an oral history interview and direct quotes from interviews can help shape dialogue in your stories.
  • Quotes from diaries, letters, affidavits or other documents can be constructed into dialogue. You can use these sources to give the illusion of dialogue in your narrative.

Lynn emphasized that while we should never make it up, she thinks here a two exceptions to the rule:

  • You can look to remembered conversations to add dialogue. Perhaps you remember your father telling you a story about his grandfather or a conversation you had with your grandmother but you can’t recall the conversation verbatim. You can recreate the conversation capturing the essence of the exchange, as long as you are open about the recollection.
  • You can also create habitual or typical dialogue. Habitual dialogue is merely capturing the flavour of a conversation that happened in real life, demonstrating the sort of talk that went on, but you stop short of claiming that it actually happened. Be clear about this. This is where you’ll cue the reader with inference cues such as usually, or always.

For today’s writing exercise of listening to a conversation and writing it down to get a feel for how real dialogue goes, I went to the library. I needed to pick up a book they had on hold for me anyway. It wasn’t a very successful attempt. I couldn’t hear well enough to catch very much of the conversations. Usually I could hear one side of it or they were walking and they would get out of range. Silly place to choose now that I think about it. We are trained to talk quietly in the library and people doing a pretty good job of it. I think I’ll try this exercise again at the first opportunity.

Have you used dialogue in your family history writing? My first and only attempt so far was with My Grandma Mary.


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