If you’re considering writing your life or family story and are unsure whether to keep it a true account or whether turning it into fiction is better for you, this article may help you decide and show you how to do it.
I interviewed my client, Natalie Nixon about her family story, Blue Almond Eyes – An Australian story of forbidden love, where she shared her writing processes and why she decided to fictionalise her life story.The case study offers extra information, writing tips, videos and resources to help you throughout your process.
The biggest issue holding people back is a lack of confidence in their writing ability or concerns about how they can tell their story. If you haven’t already got your copy of my inspirational and informative ebook, Write Your Life Story Without Fear, you can download it now and read it before you continue on with the blog. Click here to download…
Please take the time to listen to our interview on WobblyWomanTV where Nat talks candidly about her writing process and her amazing story. You can watch in on YouTube or listen to it on the WobblyWoman Podcast.
Nat’s story is about her great-great-grandparents, Victoria who was English and Jimmy who was Chinese. “They suffered terrible racism and discrimination but they loved each other and were together for sixty years. The message is that no matter whether you’re black, or white, yellow or purple – love is colourblind,” says Nat.
When Nat first came to me she didn’t have very much information about her ancestors but she was very clear about the theme or message of the book. She realised that the challenges her family experienced throughout the generations had a universal theme and message. It was a story of how love transcends all adversity.
Fictional Memoir is another way of describing autobiographical fiction, when an author chooses to tell a real experience, or the full story of their life, as a fictional account. It is usually written like a memoir, featuring first-person narration from the protagonist that is meant to be the author.
Your WHY will determine your voice, style, how you write the book, what should be left in or edited out, how you publish and market your book.
While growing up, Nat was fascinated by her family story but her grandmother never allowed her to ask questions. She was told, “You might not like what you find.” Nat felt some embarrassment about her heritage while growing up. She was bullied and there were times she felt as if she was a second-class citizen because of the small-mindedness of her town. Looking back, Nat understands that “it was the sign of the times” but believes that racism is still alive and well today.
As Nat got older, she realised her heritage was “pretty cool” and “this is a good story” so began to research. When Nat’s son met and started going out with a Chinese girl, Nat realised the irony of the situation. “We’ve come full circle. I decided to have a go and turn the adversity into something positive and spread a message that we’re all the same.”
Nat’s WHY was first to record her family history and to honour her family. However, her universal theme inspired Nat to take it to a wider audience. Her intention shifted to helping or inspiring others through her family story. Her family story is a symbol of something greater and more universal. “It was a story worth telling. My great-great-grandparents loved each other regardless of the colour of their skin, and the message is that with love, anything is possible.”
First Nat talked to family members to remember their family stories. Then she used ancestory.com to gather more information. The Australian government organisation of, Births, Deaths, and Marriages was also useful. Nat said, “It took months to find [Victoria and Jimmy’s] marriage certificate. I wasn’t sure if they were even married.”
“I found out that my great-great-grandfather was educated because there was a signature on his daughter’s birth certificate. It was a really exciting piece of the puzzle.”
Nat also saw a clairvoyant and took a photo of her great-great-grandmother in the hope of finding out more information. The clairvoyant told her that Jimmy’s family in China had a fabric business and she used that information to embellish the story.
Nat had the beginnings of a few chapters but was stuck on how to turn her ideas into a story. I loved her story but she only really had the seeds of a story.
Nat admits that it was difficult to start and finish the story and that it was more work than she thought. She began by writing starts of chapters.
We did a Book Planning Session to brainstorm her ideas and turn them into an outline for her story. We had a great time talking through possible plots, conflict and the development of characters. The most important thing to remember here is to be open to the creative process and allow for change as you write.
In our Mentoring, Nat learned about fictionalising life story, story arcs, starting with a strong hook, setting up the conflict, building the conflict through dialogue and action, identifying the climax and working out a resolution.
Nat had two narratives running through her book, so it was interesting to weave the historical story with the modern one. This was an idea that evolved over time and worked beautifully in the end.
There is an art and craft to story writing. Nat learned writing techniques such as “Show Not Tell” and “Writing in Scenes” as well as getting rid of redundancies which made her writing tighter. She said, “Once I got my head around things like that, it was easier.”
Nat came to me with a seed of the story and I helped her create an outline, develop the narrative by padding out the details and teaching her useful self-editing tips.
Read my blog on How to Pad out the Details of your Life Story
“Time,” said Nat. “It was hard to get going. I went to the office which made me get out of the house and just do it. Even going to a cafe is a good idea because it’s too easy to procrastinate at home.”
This is such a good point. Everyone wants to write a book but can’t seem to find the time or manage their time to start or finish it. Having a mentor to guide and keep you accountable works.
In the interview, I asked Nat whether she was worried about negative feedback. “I thought a few people might recognize themselves in some characters. There’s always the thought of “what will people think,” said Nat.
This is what stops a lot of people in the first place. We had a number of discussions about the real people and how we characterised them in the story. But for Nat, the drive to write the story was more than worrying about what people would think.
In Australia, we have organisations such as:
After three months of mentoring, I saw an improvement in Nat’s writing. We discussed the development of conflict and characters, getting rid of redundancies, show not tell, use of voice, pace and tone, verisimilitude (which is about keeping the story real considering it was a historical fiction). I showed Nat how to incorporate dialogue and action to improve the pace.
Nat said she was surprised at times when reading back over what she’d written and often smiled realising her writing “was pretty good” and that it was a great story.
While Nat used the limited facts she knew about her great-great-grandparents, she loved letting her imagination “go wild” but always remembered to bring her writing back to her central message.
You can find Nat’s book, Blue Almond Eyes on Amazon here and the print version will be out in November 2018
Click on the link which best suits you…
Feel free to contact me for a no-obligation chat to discuss what you need and how I can help you or direct you on the right path.
Need some guidance for writing your book?
Download my free ebook, Guide to Write and Self Publish Your Memoir with a Printable Checklist: HERE
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(Note: Images are from Pixabay and Depositphotos)