Introducing the wonderful Ivy Rose! If you haven't read her books or visited her website, you must do so! Hopefully this awesome post on biography will peak your curiosity about the books she has written. ;) They're really great!
The first thing that came to my mind when I considered writing a novel based on the lives of my ancestors was: “there is absolutely no way I can do this.” I mean...honestly! Writing a book is overwhelming enough without the added concern of making everything historically accurate. The perfectionist in me had an anxiety attack at the mere idea.
I think we all know that many writers struggle with perfectionism. Some have it worse than others. *raises hand* The nice thing about this universal problem is the hundreds of blog posts available on how to combat it. (THIS is one of my favorite posts.) Writer’s perfectionism must die for many reasons, but especially for anyone who wants to write a biography/memoir.
But aside from the problem of perfectionism, how on earth does one even go about writing a biography/memoir?!? While far from an expert, I do have some firsthand experience (reality check: firsthand nightmare) writing a family biography. I made a lot of mistakes. A LOT. To save you the hassle of making the same mistakes I did, let me share a few tips from what I learned.
Decide what “feel” the book will have. Is it going to be a traditional biography with very little dialogue, a lot of “telling,” and distancing the reader from the characters? (Something like the YWAM Heroes of the Faith books) Or is it going to be more like a based-on-real-life historical fiction? (Think the Little House books.) It’s important to figure this out before you start writing because it will impact what kind of research you do.
Keep all flat paper files in one place. (memoirs, notes, letters, pictures, etc.) The system will vary from person to person, but come up with one that you can function within. Some examples are a small filing case; a box with the different things organized into files; a binder broken into segments. Whatever works best with your brain.
Write character detail sheets. No, I’m not talking about the ordinary detail sheets for normal novels that help you remember the character’s eye color, hair color, pet peeves, favorite outfit, etc. I’m talking about a sheet of real, historical information for each character. Things like date/place of birth, date/place of marriage, date/place of death, final resting place/cemetery (this is sometimes challenging to find, but it can be super helpful), parents’ names, siblings’ names, children’s names, etc.
Visit locations. If at all possible, try to find places where you can stand in the same places your ancestors did. Try to find out where the old homesteads were. Find grounds of the general store, the church, the cemetery. Not only is this beneficial for descriptions, but it’s a mental game. It’s more about taking the time to feed your creativity and fueling imagination than about getting a description “right.”
Enjoy the process!! Is it going to be stressful? Yep. More so than with another entirely-fictional novel? Definitely. But remember, just because the process is different doesn’t make it bad.
Circling back to perfectionism. Above everything else, remember this: No matter how much research you do, you will never be 100% accurate.
Just accept it. You can’t be perfect. We live in a fallen world. No matter how much time we spend researching trying to get everything all together, perfection is unattainable.
So why waste time and energy trying? Loosen up. Enjoy the story you’re telling. Enjoy the freedom to fill in spaces where there are holes in your research. *glares at myself*
What are your experiences researching family history?
Have you ever considered writing a novel about your ancestors?