Writing Your Family Story

Today’s guest blogger is Donna Schlachter.  She lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests.

A couple of years ago, I had the unhappy fortune to be with my father as he answered questions for the intake counselor at a hospice facility. He patiently answered her questions about his family, his children, what he’d done for a living, until he grew tired. And then he simply said, “If you want to know any more, read the book.”

“Read the book?” She looked at each sibling. “What book?”

“There on the bookcase.”

I handed her the book. “It’s the first part of his life, up until he married my mom, and then the last part, where he found his half-siblings from his father’s side of the family.”

She thumbed through the book then she looked up at us again. “You won’t believe how many family members come through here every year who say they wished they’d listened more closely to their parent’s stories. Or how many parents who say they wished they’d taken time to write down the stories. This is the first time I’ve met anybody who actually did it. You have a treasure here.”

Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you might want to record family stories for future generations. Here is the process we used to write the book for family only and then prepare it for the general market.

  1. Decide what your goal is: first and foremost, this was a history book for the family. Secondly, he knew his story wasn’t unique, but the setting and the characters were, and we felt that would set the book apart in the general market.
  2. Decide the structure: he wanted to tell three separate stories including how he came to be born and placed in the family he was raised in, his life growing up in a unique setting, and finding his half-siblings on his birth father’s side of the family. So we went with the three-books-in-one approach, from two different points of view, his birth mother’s and his.
  3. Decide what to include: a person’s life has innumerable stories, so we kept to the ones that best described my father—pragmatic, logical, forward-thinking.
  4. Decide whom to protect: in the family-only version, we toned down some stories where we felt we knew the truth but couldn’t prove it, while in the market version, we changed the names of the characters, kept the name of the town, and wrote it the way we believed it happened.
  5. Decide what to exclude: my father came to Christ three weeks before he passed away, so that was a huge part of the family-only book, even though it was a short part of his life on this earth. The title, My Cup Has Overflowed, came from a song I love called “I’m drinking from my saucer, Lord, because my cup has overflowed”. We decided not to include much of that story in the market version.

So, if you’re thinking about writing your family story, don’t wait. If you’re tired of hearing Uncle John’s stories or Grandma Mary’s tales, don’t tune them out. Write the stories. They won’t always be here.

Donna  will be teaching an online course for American Christian Fiction Writers in June 2017, “Don’t let your subplots sink your story”.   Her current release, Echoes of the Heart, a 9-in-1 novella collection titledPony Express Romance Collection” released April 1. 

Facebook: www.Facebook.com/DonnaschlachterAuthor

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/DonnaSchlachter

Books: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq

Echoes of the Heart: http://amzn.to/2lBaqcW

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