When I started out writing my book, I listed a lot of the stories told to me over the years. However, I felt what I had wasn’t communicating the stories well enough. I needed to dig deeper and think about what may have been going on in their mind, and what they may have felt. I had to balance this with keeping the integrity of the people intact and not make them out to be something they weren’t.
I found introducing different emotions made my characters more rounded and real. I wanted to take them from being one-dimensional characters to the living, breathing ‘real’ people they once were. One way I achieved this was through emotions and using dialogue to communicate it. You may want to remember this for your storytelling.
By focusing on the characters emotions, you help your reader feel empathy towards the character. Because now they are privy to what is going on inside the characters head, they will feel as if they are going through the experience with them.
To help your stories become more compelling and have your reader engaged, you need to remember what will be relevant; here are three ideas to help you do that.
Because most of your family history writing will be in times past, you need to keep the authenticity of the time-period in mind. What you think might be relevant feelings may not be appropriate in the context of the time your ancestors were alive. So avoid making the assumption that an ancestor may feel the same way about something as you would. They lived in an entirely different time- period, so things that we consider as abnormal today may have happened on a frequent basis in their lives. Therefore, their reactions and thoughts towards things may have been entirely different.
There are diverse cultural differences that impact on emotions. For example, the way some cultures mourn can be vastly different to others. Some are quite vocal; others are more reserved. Another consideration of cultural differences is family culture. Some families respond, react or think about things differently than others.
You can get emotions across when you extrapolate on what your ancestor thought about something. For example, think about how your ancestor may have felt about the death of a baby, loss of a spouse or arriving in a new country. Rather than merely describing that they were upset, angry or sad, discuss how they ‘felt’ about a particular experience as this will give them depth. Use it in dialogue or frame it as “What will I do, Henry is gone, I’m afraid I’ll not manage looking after the farm and the children.” When you include her thoughts, you get more of a feel for her concern than ‘Now that Henry had died, Mary had to look after the farm and the children’. The first one engages your reader more by explaining how they felt.