Monday, August 24, 2009

Guest Post: Linda Weaver Clarke on Writing Your Family Legacy

Today Linda Weaver Clarke, author of David and the Bear Lake Monster and instructor of the Family Legacy Writing Workshops, stopped by for the second day of her two day visit to tell us a bit about writing a book about your family and her workshops.



WRITING YOUR FAMILY LEGACY

Turn your family history into a variety of interesting stories. Make your ancestors come alive on paper. The importance of family legacy can never be over emphasized. Do your children know their heritage? Who are your ancestors? What were their traditions? Did they fight for a cause and what was it about? Each of us has a story from our ancestors or even our very own story to tell. If these stories are unwritten, then how are your children going to know of their parentage or even family traditions of the past? It’s up to us to write these experiences down.

Remember, conflict is part of our lives and makes for an interesting story. You want your children to be proud of who their ancestors are. We must record and share these stories with them.

First, collect your thoughts; write down any experiences that you remember. Talk to family members and discuss memories. You can make several short stories, making the history into segments. Or you can write the whole history as a continuous flow. Your children will want to know their heritage, what their ancestors stood for. Make your Family Legacy something your children will remember, something they will be proud of.

Research—an Intricate Part of Writing

Research is an intricate part of writing. Learn everything you can about the area your story takes place, the time period, and any historical facts that you would like to add. Sometimes what the country went through has to do with the circumstances of your ancestors. If they lived during the depression or war times, it helps your children understand why their grandparents had such tough times, why they barely made ends meet, or why they had to flee a certain country.

You must research:
1. The area your story takes place
2. Any non-fictional characters
3. The time period

First, find out everything you can about the area to both educate your readers and to make the setting feel real. Since the reader can’t be there physically, then perhaps they can be there mentally. If possible, go to the area you want to write about, walk around, find specific places of importance, where your ancestors lived, went to school, and played. If you can’t go there, then do research and find pictures of that area. Study books at the library or search the Internet.

My first book, “Melinda and the Wild West: A Family Saga in Bear Lake, Idaho” is set in Paris, Idaho where my ancestors settled. When I researched the area, I found a lot of intriguing history. In 1896, Butch Cassidy robbed the bank in the Bear Lake Valley. I wanted to include this in my novel, so after much research, I found that the town of Montpelier had recorded the incident with every little detail. I was thrilled. But before I could include this in my novel, I had to do more research. Butch Cassidy was a non-fictional character. I had to find out what kind of person Cassidy was. I couldn’t portray him as something he wasn’t. Was he a mean and ornery cuss or a kind and warm-hearted soul? I found that he had a great sense of humor, a quick wit, and was admired by many. He had a charming personality and was a great leader. It didn’t take long before he had a bunch of loyal followers, which were called “The Wild Bunch.”

If your ancestor met Sam Houston or Martin Luther King, then you would need to research what they looked like and what their personality was like. This will help you to better describe the meeting between your ancestor and this great man.

Time Period is another important part of research. During the roaring twenties, bobbed hair was the rage. If your grandmother bobbed her hair and went to the dance marathons, write about it. If your ancestor loved reading books in the evening before retiring, it would be interesting to add what kind of light he used. Little details like this warms a story up and can bring your ancestor to life. Did he use electricity or candlelight, or even an oil lantern? It sounds more interesting to say, “Grandfather sat in his overstuffed chair and read for hours with an oil lantern at his side.” Rather than just saying, “Grandfather read extensively before retiring.”

Character Emotion

Emotion is the secret of holding a reader, the difference between a slow or a dynamic recounting of a story. When you feel the emotion inside, so will your readers. By giving descriptions of emotion, it helps the reader feel part of the story as if he were actually there himself. Emotions of a character can help us feel satisfied because we can feel what the character feels.

When emotion and feelings are left out of a story, we can feel let down. Emotion is part of our lives, so why ignore such an important element in a story? But remember: Show, don’t tell.

If an ancestor had to defend her home from marauders, how did she feel? If an outlaw challenged your great grandfather, what were his feelings deep down inside? If your grandfather was faced with a grizzly bear in the wild, how did he react? These are questions that you must research. Read about other people’s accounts, so you can adequately describe your ancestor’s feelings during a given situation.

Imagine what it would be like to see a grizzly bear coming toward you, forcing you to quickly hide behind a boulder. Surely you wouldn’t feel calm in a situation like this. The last thing you want is to be discovered. Maybe your chest constricts as fear overtakes you and beads of sweat begin trickling down your back or forehead. Perhaps you begin trembling and your face turns pale.

When you describe the effects of intense emotion, it helps the reader feel as if he were a part of the story, as if he were actually there himself. It can be difficult, however, for an author to know exactly how the character felt unless he or she had been in a similar situation, and that’s where research comes in. After researching stories about people who have been faced with a similar situation, the author can describe the emotions and feelings of a character and thereby make the reader feel as if he were experiencing the event himself.

In my first novel, Melinda is faced with danger when she startles a grizzly in the wild. If I had written that she screamed and ran for her life, that would be an accurate description, but it does not “show” the reader her innermost feelings. How did she feel when the grizzly growled and began to lunge toward her? Would she be coherent? I doubt it. An author must show how she felt, describe her quickening pulse, rather than say she was frightened.

After much research, I found that some people who had been faced with a grizzly bear froze when the grizzly stood on its two hind legs, and some shook for half an hour after shooting the grizzly in self-defense. Others, who were used to the wild and had had experience defending themselves from grizzlies, did not react the same way. Many described what the grizzly looked like just before they turned and ran. That helped me describe Melinda’s frightening situation since I had never been faced with a grizzly before.

After reading my description at a Family Legacy lecture, there was someone present that had been faced with this same situation. She said that I had adequately described that terrifying experience as if she had relived that day once again. If I had not done my research, then she would have said to me, “You don’t know the half of it.” This was how Melinda’s experience turned out from Melinda and the Wild West:

“Melinda heard an irritated grunt as the grizzly raised its head and saw her standing off in the distance. The grizzly snarled with anger as if warning her to leave. Then, almost immediately, it let out a hideous growl and leapt clumsily toward her. Its enormous jaws were spread wide and its eyes were flashing fire. She had never seen anything so frightening in her life.

“Fear overtook her and Melinda could not retain adequate presence of mind. Her chest tightened and her face drained as she tried to catch her breath. She panicked and quickly turned and ran as fast as she could go. Her heart was pounding rapidly with each step she took. She felt as if she were running in slow motion. Surely this was a dream. No, it was more like a nightmare. Suddenly, to her horror, she lost her balance as she tripped over a rock and fell face down on the ground in a cushion of soft weeds and mud.

“Melinda began to scream. She had never seen such a hideous sight before and she became paralyzed with fear. The feeling of terror that rose in her throat made it hard to breathe and she began to shake uncontrollably.”

I did not simply tell the reader about an incident, but I showed the feelings inside her soul. Emotions of a character can help us feel satisfied because we can feel what the character feels.

For those writing their own autobiography or a fictional story, don’t forget descriptions of love. You know what it feels like to be in love or to be loved, so describe it. Our hearts swell within, sending a warm feeling down our spine, and making us feel as if life was worth living. If we can adequately describe the feelings of love, then perhaps we can awaken that remembrance in others who have forgotten what it was like to be in love. These descriptions can remind readers of the love they once had for their mate, awakening those feelings once again. After the reader puts down the book, he or she will have a feeling of satisfaction. Remember, emotions are part of life and can be an essential part of your story.



About Linda's Workshops:

WHAT IS FAMILY LEGACY?

Linda teaches a workshop that helps others to put their family history into a variety of interesting stories. The importance of family legacy can never be over emphasized. Do your children know their heritage? Who are your ancestors? What were their traditions? What did they celebrate? What religion were they? What beliefs did they have? Did they fight for a cause and what was it about? Each of us has a story from our ancestors or even our very own story to tell. If these stories are unwritten, then how are your children going to know of their ancestry, of their parentage, or even family traditions of the past? It's up to us to write these experiences down. Conflict is part of our lives and makes for an interesting story. The secret of holding a reader is using emotion; it's the difference between a slow or a lively recounting of a story.

For a sample of what you can do with your family histories, read the short stories on my site.

TWO-HOUR WORKSHOP

Turn your family history into a variety of interesting stories or write your own story. Make your ancestors come alive on paper. Learn the most important elements of writing. Discuss setup, characters, plot, the importance of conflict and emotion. Conflict is part of our lives and makes for an interesting story. The secret of holding a reader is using emotion; it's the difference between a dull or a lively recounting of a story. Make your family legacy something your children will remember.

To contact me, you may e-mail -- linda@lindaweaverclarke.com

COMMENTS ABOUT LINDA'S WORKSHOP

"Ms Clarke is terrific. She appeals to genealogists and aspiring authors. I was terribly impressed! She instructs for two hours; the people were genuinely attuned to what she presents. She just impressed the heck out of me. She KNOWS her subject and can present it wonderfully. As I say, she is terrific, thorough, professional, yet strikes just the right chord with her audience." -- Mary Jo Gohlke - Adult Programming, Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library, California

"I went to a 2-hr-seminar put on by Broadmoor Library. It was so interesting and I wish I had a video of the lady speaking; telling stories of her parents, grandparents, family, etc. What a great writer of fiction, which has family incorporated in her books. She will continue to write as the Lord gives her wisdom and knowledge on how to captivate the interest of the reader. . . I read long ago that you should write for the reader and she has done just that, as she knows how to capture the attention of the reader. What a brilliant lady who knows how to speak, write, motivate and bless people in all walks of life. I could listen to her all day. It is just so uplifting." -- Shirley from Shreveport, Louisiana

Two professors from different universities have told Ms. Clarke that they learned more from her two hour workshop than from other writing classes they had attended.

COMMENTS FROM CHOLLA BRANCH LIBRARY, PHOENIX, ARIZONA

"Super sweet, genuine, gave informative account of her own experience"

"Clearly Linda knows her stuff"

"I liked how the speaker was very detailed"

"I liked: Professional presentation, informative, thorough and interesting, well organized"

COMMENTS FROM THOUSAND OAKS LIBRARY, THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA

"I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a program so much."

"I learned as much as a full-blown writing class."

"She made everything so interesting and understandable by using her stories, books, and other examples."

For Linda's upcoming Family Legacy Writing Workshop events, visit her website HERE.



Thank you so much to Linda for joining us for this awesome two day event!



2 comments:

Wanda said...

This post was of great interest to me because I am currently researching my family history and there is SOOO much of interest in my family's past. I want to research and record it properly and be able to pass it on to my children someday.
wandanamgreb (at) gmail (dot) com

Linda Weaver Clarke said...

Oh, yes. Our family stories are so important. If we don't write them down, then who will? Knowing who our ancestors are helps us to understand ourselves better. Good Luck!

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