Through the years, I began to realize that the best historians were walking amongst us. My grandmother, for example, was born in 1911. Although she has since passed, the stories she had to tell of her years as a girl and woman during prohibition, then surviving the Great Depression, World War II and Vietnam are spectacular and far more engaging than a lot of what is printed in those dry tomes on the same subjects. Can you even begin to fathom how much changed in just her lifetime? She went from a log cabin with no phone to phones in your hip pocket! It is simply astounding, and her stories were just as extraordinary.
Much has already been written by others on how to capture family history or narrative. One of my personal favorites is StoryCorps, which encourages conversations to occur between the generations. You will truly be surprised when you put on your “listening ears” to learn just how fascinating your elders’ – yes, even your parents’ – stories can prove to be. (I know I was!)
But hey, hold up a minute. I’m a fiction writer. I make stuff up; right? Well, yes…and no. Actually, I do make up some story details…names, descriptions, plot lines. But I steal an awful lot, too! Yes, it’s true: the best fiction writers are no more than crafty thieves. And like the old saying goes, “imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
Think of your family history in this way: taking a story from your family is like taking a ready to wear dress off the hanger. Sure, everyone’s got a dress a little bit like that, but as you take your needle of imagination and your thread of words to it, you embellish it into something that is not only spectacular to read – but also pays homage to those whom you cherish.