Writing Challenge: day 55

It is my 55th day in the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge but it is her 25th day and the topic is “Improving Your Story Through Feedback”. Lynn gives some consideration in finding a group to give valuable in improving the quality of our family stories. Here they are:

  • Critique groups and writing groups are not necessarily the same thing.
  • In-Person or Online Groups. There are pros and cons to both in-person and online groups.
  • In-person groups can be more restrictive.
  • On-line Groups offer flexibility.
  • Open and closed groups. 
  • Genre-based groups. 
  • Consider a single critique partner.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your first group doesn’t work out.

I’m glad that we have a writing coach to work with on this project. I think her teaching will really help me progress faster and get a better story in the end. Today writing exercise was to take one sentence in which you are “telling” and revise it into a “showing” sentence. Here is my original sentence:

Ray started the 2600 miles journey across the southern United States on Labor Day weekend.

Here is my attempt at showing:

The warm air flowed across the drop of sweat that trickled down the side of his check as Ray crossed into Arizona. At 60 miles per hour the telephone poles clicked by at an amazing speed and flags fluttered on many of the houses that he passed by.

I still feel really clueless even though I’ve learned lots in the last couple of months. So much more to applying these principles but at least I have some awareness of them now. “One day at a time,” I keep telling myself.

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Writing Challenge: day 54

Day 24 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge featured guest author Jean-Francois de Buren. He gave an excellent list of things to think about while working on a family story project. Lots of great food for thought here:

  • The story must be personally resonant. The story must be meaningful to you first and foremost. If you are not moved by it, do not proceed, it will simply be too difficult, and the result will be lackluster. While you might be writing your family story to ultimately share with other family members, this cannot be your primary motivation. If you write for others in the hope of receiving praise for your efforts, you will never receive the level of acclaim you desire, no matter how effusive it is.
  • Start modestly. Start small and see where it the story takes you. It does not need to be a multi-generational epic to have impact.
  • It should feel original to you. While any great story will have timeless themes, the story should still feel real to your family. What you write will inspire others to be sure, but in ways that you can never predict, nor should you try. Authenticity is key here. If you do not believe in what you are writing it will come through.
  • Be forthright. Don’t be afraid to search for and tell the truth. Family stories are often embellished over time, and the stories we choose to tell say something about us. What really happened can often times be more interesting than the stories that were handed down. If you don’t know what “really” happened, feel free to offer open-ended questions that will leave the reader thinking. Have a point-of-view.
  • Think about milieu. Historical context is critically important. Your ancestors certainly did not leave their home countries on a whim. What was the social, religious, racial tenor of the time?
  • It should have drama. It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on facts and figures when it comes to family history, but that alone does not make for great storytelling. Wade into the emotions of your ancestral protagonists. If you were in their shoes, what would you have felt, what would you have done?
  • Trust yourself. This is critical. The story that you will tell has waited for you to tell it—own that fact. Once you get into the story and feel the emotional power, it will take you where you need to go.
  • Give yourself a deadline. The process cannot be fully open-ended. A goal is key. It could be a deadline to finish the first chapter, the first 20 pages or the first draft. If you are committed to the process, the muse will marshall the resources to assist you. Showing up matters.
  • Revise and edit. Once you feel it is exactly where you want it to be, let two people whom you trust to look at it. Take a deep breath and know that the comments are there to make your work better. Their tasks are different, so chose wisely. One is looking at the story from a macro level. Is the story compelling? Does it have drama? Would someone who does not know me or my family want to read it? The other is looking at the story from a micro level. Checking grammar, spelling, syntax and sentence structure.
  • Enjoy the process. Let go of the fear of failure, the final product is already within you simply waiting to be expressed. Take the plunge.

Here are two of Jean-Francois de Buren’s projects that you might be interested in. He wrote about his literary journey with his ancestor   http://www.common-place.org/vol-13/no-04/tales/ and an adaptation of his ancestor’s journals can be found on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Voyage-Across-Americas-Journey-Henri/dp/2940531021/ 

Writing Challenge: day 53

Today, day 23 of the Armchair Genealogist‘s writing challenge was about revisions. Since my writing experience is very limited I hadn’t really thought about the differences between revisions, editing and proof reading. I learned recently about content editing and editing for grammar etc. I like the term proof reading. My mom is a good proof reader but she isn’t much help in editing content or revisions. At 91 even proof reading is getting hard for her. Lynn explains that revising is about the big picture of the story, editing is on a sentence level and proof reading the last step to catch grammatical and punctuation errors as well as spelling mistakes. It takes dozens of rewrites to get to the editing stage. Here are Lynn’s suggestions on what to look at in the early stages of revision:

  1.  Does each scene serve the story?
  2.  What is the real subject of this story? Is the theme visible to the reader?
  3.  Where does the story ring out?
  4.  What seems superfluous and does not enhance the story?
  5.  Does your back story get to the point, is it necessary to the story, or does it arrive too early?
  6.  Is the beginning, the ending?
  7.  Is the beginning deadweight, does your story start several hundred or thousands of words in?
  8.  Are your characterizations strong and does your ancestor act with purpose?
  9.  Does your plot make sense? Does everything lead to the climax?
  10.  Are the stakes clear, do they create tension and hold the readers interest to the end.

Another tip she gave was when it is hard to cut some favorite part that really needs to go, put it into a file for future reference. She suggests calling this file, “Fragments” or “Bits and Pieces” or “Story Starters.”

Today’s free writing exercise was to write about a small incident in an ancestors life that shows their courage and kindness. Not sure if I ended up with the right kind of incident but too late now. My Dad doesn’t show much emotion but I think he is more sentimental than he realizes. The first time he met my Mom she through some corn kernels at him. He picked them up and put them in his pocket. That night when he should have thrown them away he kept them. After they were engaged he decided to save them and then plant them someday and tell his children the story about the corn. When I was 5 or 6 they planted that corn. I don’t remember the corn planting but I love the story. With lots of revisions etc. it could make a really good story. Maybe it would work to start the story on the day he is planting the corn and flashback 10 years to the day they met. Maybe I’m starting to think like a writer. Not sure but I’ve never thought about it that way before.