Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Organizing Stories into a Book or Booklet

If you have written some of your memories, it may be time to look at organization from this point forward, providing you have not done so already. Organizing your collection of stories into book form can be daunting and can vary greatly as there are several options.

The first step, however, would be to determine your audience. If you desire just to record the many stories of your life rather than writing them into one cohesive book, your approach would be entirely different as, perhaps, would be your audience. There are people who have taken their life’s story or sections of their lives and turned them into autobiographies or novels. Most of us, however, strive to gather our family history in some readable form for future preservation. If the latter is your choice, you have many avenues which are less daunting than writing that “Great American Novel.”

You may choose to write your childhood memories and family stories as a timeline. This acts more like a lengthy diary, but would always be greatly appreciated by your descendants. However, it would probably lack the details to make the events of your life interesting. A timeline, nevertheless, makes a good outline for story ideas and does record the stories and events you may not have time to write. This timeline along with your more expanded stories is the ideal situation.

There are several choices in organizing your collection, and the most common is to put your stories in chronological order. You could also use a theme for each chapter or section of your finished product and include several stories under that theme. For example, you could write about the game of Chess over the four generations it was played in your family, putting it into one story. You could include all your family vacations and related stories into one chapter. You may choose to put all your school years into a section. There are many possibilities and below are just a few choices:

1. Order chronologically.

2. Begin with the present and use flashback to relive all the stories.

3. Order your stories by topic around a central theme or event.

4. Order the stories by groups of time (i.e., teen years; mid-life).

5. Organize vignettes.

For some writers, it is easier to write all your stories and then decide the order and format. Review what you have written, putting copies in piles that are related either in time or subject matter. Shift the stories around until you have everything organized in the best way possible. If it is difficult to recall all your stories, you may choose to use note cards and write one sentence describing each story, then shift those around to your liking. Understand that you may have to do some rewriting to find a perfect fit for all of them.

Once you have tried a particular order for your stories, ask yourself:

· Can the information be displayed in a more logical manner?

· Does it clarify in what areas you need to concentrate more?

· Does the order show the holes in your life or timeline so you are not neglecting a section of time?

· Is it clear where you have been and where you are going in your format?

· Are ideas for more stories indicated?

Adapted from: http://www.genealogy.com/201/lesson14/course14_05.html

Organizational Options for Publishing:

Besides including the obvious (Title Page, Table of Contents and perhaps even an Index), the following sections are the most important in organizing your book.

Body of the text


Your book title should reflect the essence of its contents, but you need an introduction that explains the format of the book. By doing this you can simply use your individual stories in a logical order as a group of vignettes, hopefully around a central theme. If you can not carry a theme all the way through all your stories, then group them into sections. The chapters within those sections are your individual stories. The theme of that section (or of your book) is your transition tying the chapters together under a particular section, if you use sections.


Discuss the goal or focus of your book. Why are you writing your family’s story?

Explain the format of your book. Is it vignettes of your life and family or highlights that have influenced your life?

NOTE: Write the title of your story last. You can have a “working” title which may end up being your finished product, but reanalyze your title at the end. The title must reflect the content of the book. Subtitles can explain what the book is really; for example, Running Through Life: The Stories and Memories of …(YOU)……..

Body of the Text

Each of your chapters (i.e. stories) needs to have a clever, but useful title and the opening paragraphs should be exciting so the reader is pulled into the story and will continue reading. The text must be written in a manner to entice your reader to care about the characters. Your last paragraph is the transitional one that binds the chapters together. (For transitional information see pager 42.)

What to Include for the Body

1. Your family and personal stories.

2. Graphics, photos, recipes, memorabilia, maps, sketches, illustrations, etc. Photos of a child’s drawings or something they made, recipes with the ancestor’s photo and a short biography of them or stories about their cooking, maps of your neighborhood, and art or craftwork of family members are just a few wonderful items to add.

3. If there are family members, friends, or events that played an important role in your life, you might want to consider devoting chapters or sections of your work to these people or focus your story around the events which were major influences.

4. There might be some historical background information that you wish to include in your family history. This would help the reader put the family into an historical context. Be careful when making grand generalizations and keep in mind that historical events might not have had any impact on your ancestors' lives. If there were historical events that caused your family to move or change in some manner, then you might want to mention these items. Keep in mind that the events should have logically impacted your family’s history and not be totally unrelated. Using historical events to place your family within the timeline of history may be a good idea to give your readers a frame of reference.

5. Anecdotes could be added in sidebars as stories that you wish to include, but which do not totally fit your chapter. Perhaps these are related stories about a particular person in your chapter.

Ordering the Body—Many Choices

1. Make an outline of what you have written or intend to write. Change the outline as your progress, if needed.

2. Write all the stories first. Place them in a desired order either by moving the complete story from place to place or by summarizing it in a sentence or less on a 3" x 5″ card and shuffle the cards until you like the format.

3. Begin with your current life and flash back to how you reached your present status focusing on how all these events have shaped your life.

4. Place your stories in chronological order.

5. Order your stories according to large chunks of time, such as Childhood Years, Teen Years, etc.

6. Organize by themes: Family; Vacations; Holidays, etc.

7. Look at what you have learned in your lifetime and base your journey on a lesson or two from your experiences. That is, have a common theme or thread for all your stories that reflects what your life has taught you or what messages you wish to convey to your descendants.

8. Group your stories into sections. Each section could be titled such as: "Little Glimpses of Life on the Farm" or "Miniatures of My Life in the 1940s" or whatever seems suitable. Order your vignettes so they carry a thread through the whole section, maybe having a short explanatory or transitional paragraph every once in a while to gather the bits together in each subsection or an introductory paragraph at the beginning of each section to explain the grouping.


Types of Illustrations—Anything That Can be Photographed or Scanned.

1. Photos of people, houses, buildings, artifacts (heirlooms),

2. Maps of cities, neighborhoods, vacations,

3. Letters and their envelopes,

4. Signatures from letters, old petitions or the World War I Draft Registrations as found on line at http://www.ancestry.com/. Remember that old deeds do not bear the signature of your ancestor, but of the clerk writing their name.

5. Journals, transcribed if possible, and who has possession,

6. Certificates, including birth, baptismal, marriage, graduation, death, and other awards,

7. Ephemera (dance cards, pressed flowers, membership cards, postcards, concert tickets, etc.),

8. Historic illustrations (transportation, locations, furniture, etc.),

9. Clip art of textiles (quilts, clothing, needlework,

10. Recipes including a photo of the ancestor,

11. Photos of any items you or your ancestors collected.

Organization of Illustrations

1. Order the illustrations complimentary to the content of the book. Interspersing them within the text is best. It is most important to place the illustrations for maximum effect.

2. Label each clearly and place it near the text that refers to it.

3. Additional items could be placed in the Appendix.

NOTE: Without photos, graphics, illustrations, maps, sketches, and other types of images, your book may be informative with regard to the material, but it can also be made more interesting.

Graphics add life to a family history. Photos give your reader a chance to see what your ancestors looked like. Maps show towns and homes in relationship to other localities of importance. Scanned images such as signatures give interest to the details about people's lives. Pictures of towns, locations, houses, etc. enhance the experience of immersing the reader in your ancestors’ lives.

Writing a more current family history, you will have access to photographs, records, certificates, and hopefully personal items which give interest to the individual.

Just about anything you can either photograph or scan can be included!

Be creative. If you do not have a lot of items for an ancestor, consult historical books, the Internet, and other references for sketches or photos of clothing, furniture, houses, etc. which your ancestor might have encountered in his or her everyday life. Make certain these illustrations are copyright free.


1. Summarize your life from the aspect of the lessons you have learned and the people who have guided you or influenced you.

2. Reflect on how these events and stories have impcted you.

3. Reread your Introduction, reflecting upon it to help you write your Conclusion.

4. Look to the future and leave a message for your descendants with regard to your desires for them, the book, and your family’s history.


You may wish to include the following:

1. A family history section and include a pedigree chart to show relationships among your ancestors.

2. Copies of news articles that relate to the family.

3. Copies of family documents.

4. Any information you wish to share, but which may not easily fit within the format of your book.


A sidebar is a short companion story that is a part of a longer story. It is often boxed or in a different typeface to set it apart. The sidebar may appear to the side of the original article, within it, or at the end. Side bars are optional and should not be overused.

In general, sidebars…

· provide additional information that can be easily used or digested.

· give helpful information that can clarify a part of the story.

· allow authors to break up an otherwise lengthy story into a manageable piece by some of the story in a couple of smaller sidebars.

· allow the writer to include the extra or background information for a story.

· can allow the author to add lineage information in a family history to clarify an ancestor’s position in the family.

· allow authors to give readers places to find more information on the subject. This could include organizations and their addresses, website addresses (known as URLs), books, festivals or events that relate to this topic.

· can include information that is fun, informative, or interesting as you know the readers will enjoy it. Add humor where possible.

· are loved by editors and may make the difference between a sale or not, that little extra oomph that pushes your piece into the acceptance pile.

Adapted from: http://thedabblingmum.com/writing/magwriting/sidebars.htm

How to Write a Sidebar:

· Write the sidebar before you write the main article. Doing this often allows you to focus your main article around the points that are in the sidebar. The sidebar communicates the small tidbits of information that you expand upon in the article or story.

· Use extra information from your main story. As you research the main story, you will generate more information than you can use. Put this information in a sidebar. You can use bullets to show quick statistical facts.

· Note resources. Your article may link to other topics of interest. Rather than putting this information in the main article or story you can write it in a sidebar. This makes the resource more noticeable and gives you the content you need for your sidebar.

· Follow the guidelines for writing a sidebar if you are having your work published. Check with your publisher on their criteria, but generally you must double-space the text, write the sidebar on a separate piece of paper, making sure that the information in the sidebar is correct and that your contact information and word count are at the top of the page.

Adapted from: http://www.ehow.com/how_2063484_write-sidebar.html


Create an index if your finished product is substantial. There are computer programs that automatically index your writing or you can make categories that are important to your family and keep track of the pages on which the information is found. For example, you would want to include all names of people and locations, at least.


Without transitions your writing will not progress smoothly and your reader will be lost. Transitions help guide your reader and help you emphasize the important ideas you wish to convey.

Transitions can be tricky, and if you find they are extra difficult either within your story or between stories, look at your organization. The flaw could be there.
For transitioning between stories for a book the following steps can help.

1. Determine your audience.

2. Write all the stories you wish to write.

3. Put a sentence about each story on a 3" X 5" card as if each story was a scene in a play.

4. Organize the “scenes” (stories).

5. Find an underlying thread that can tie the stories together by reading the last part of one and the first part of the next. Find a “hook” or theme that ties all the stories together.

6. Determine if stories fall into groups or flow nicely together.

7. Determine what is missing to tie together some of the stories and edit accordingly.

8. Rearrange stories as needed.
9. Write and rewrite your stories with the hook and audience in mind.

10. Write your first chapter and the final chapter with the “hook” and your audience in mind.


Copyright laws prohibit the unauthorized use of materials without consent from the creator, unless that material is in the public domain.

That means you cannot lift a chapter from a family history book, copy pictures or illustrations from an encyclopedia, or use a graphic found on a web site unless you receive permission from the author or person who created the item. The exception to this rule is if the item is so old that it is not longer copyrighted and is in the public domain. Works created before 1978 are considered to be out of copyright when they are 75 years old. So any book published in 1923 or before (which has not had the copyright renewed) is in the public domain. Public domain items are fair game for use. You can copy the materials and use it as you see fit. Reputable authors will always credit a source, regardless of the copyright status!

Any writing, drawing, web page, or other "work of authorship" is copyrighted the minute it comes into being. For instance, as soon as I wrote this lesson, it was immediately copyrighted to me. No one else can reproduce it without my consent. Although some items such as e-mails may appear to belong to you, always ask the creator before you include an object which may be copyrighted.

That said, there is a way someone could use a small portion of an article if desired. The Fair Use exemption allows individuals to include copies of copyrighted materials for criticism, commentary, education, research, and news reporting. Fair Use relies heavily upon intent of the person using the material. If you are reproducing material from another family history book simply because you are too lazy to research the material yourself, the use of the material would not qualify as Fair Use. If you used the same material to dispute or make comments about the author's conclusions, that would be Fair Use. When invoking the Fair Use exemption, you must be sure to use only a small amount of material (some people say 45 words or less), give credit to the source of the material, and make sure your use of that work will not harm the value of the original work. There are many excellent online sites dealing with copyright issues and the forms you need to complete to obtain your own copyright.

Unique Books for Family Stories

Personal historians have found innovative ways to share memories with their families by choosing a theme. You may wish to write smaller books for your family stories with the focus on a topic instead of trying to put all your memories into one volume. Two possible ideas are the Culinary Biography and the Legacy Letter. See the list below for other such topics which can be a compilation of stories for your family.

To create a culinary history, families compile favorite recipes along with stories about special dishes or mealtime traditions. Food is often the center of a culture and bears great importance within a family. It gives us life and sustains our being; it is steeped in tradition, both in the foods we eat and the reasons for sharing them. The dinner table has traditionally been a place to gather and share the day’s activities while nourishing the body. Holidays or certain days of the week require certain foods for some families. Recipes have been handed down for generations while some have been recent creations between mother and child. Some dishes are newly adopted into the family tradition, especially as marriages occur and families blend. There are many memories of food in our lives, from smelling the coffee in the morning to the wonderful bread baking or meat frying in the pan. We all have food stories to tell and recipes to share.

Stories about food can take many directions and may include tales of learning to cook, details of holiday celebrations or even reminiscences of long-ago fishing or camping trips. The culinary biography is typically shorter than most family histories and allows many relatives to share their stories. Do not forget to add stories, biographies and photographs of the persons who made the recipe for your family as well as pictures of the food.

Another idea is to write family stories in the form of a letter to the future descendents or to compile as many personal letters as you can locate in your family’s attics. These would, of course, include those popular Christmas letters. Your booklet with all these letters would also focus on biographical stories of those who wrote, along with memories of them and photographs. Many people may choose to end this booklet with a Legacy Letter either written by you, the author, or by all the family members who wish to contribute.

In a Legacy Letter, a person sets out values or advice for children or other family members. These letters are always emotionally charged, particularly while paying tribute to those who shaped his or her life in a positive way. These letters may be shared while the author is still alive, included in your book on family letters, or they may be passed along in a will. For some people, a legacy letter offers the chance to speak directly to a loved one; others write such letters to correct misperceptions about their lives or to give insight about the family or advice to future generations.

Other possibilities for smaller books or even for chapters in a larger work could include the following:

1. Use a vacation or road trip as your underlying theme to tell about the lives of those with you. With this you can easily flashback to other stories and memories related to the individuals and then return to the trip to include all those wonderful stories.

2. Focus on family holidays throughout the years. What threads are common and what events happen to be unique that time? Again, the use of Flashback can allow you to return to memories prior to the holiday and give you opportunity to clarify the uniqueness of each family member.

3. A book on your school days memories and how you have changed over this time from a child to an adult. Of course, add stories of all those who influenced you along your path, including those favorite teachers.

4. Stories from the neighborhood. Use a map of your neighborhood or draw your own and recall all the people and stories involved. Perhaps your family moved, so multiple neighborhoods could become an entire book or chapter. Do not forget to add photos and your map as these will enhance the stories you write.

5. Write about your life in a particular house from the house’s point of view. How curious was the house with little ones running around on its beautiful floors and how sad when they grew up and left for their own homes?

6. Chronicle a major family move. Include the reason for moving, all the preparation, the route taken, finding a new home, and how it changed the family’s life. Perhaps your family moved often. This theme could be the backbone of a complete work.

7. Hobbies, talents, or crafts of family members. Some families tend to be musical in nature or artistic while others have some unique hobbies.

8. Writing a family history which focuses on specific individuals, usually a particular ancestor can be the basis of your book with the rest of the family and their stories connecting to that particular ancestor.

Adapted from Storyzon: http://www.themonthly.com/shopping-11-07.html

Miscellaneous Resources

Note: These sources are provided for your convenience and are
not personally endorsed by the authors of this booklet.

Citing Sources: Focuses on genealogy, so consult professional manuals if needed.

Copyright Laws: Explains Fair Use and what is protected by the law.

Who Owns Genealogy? Gives additional information on Copyright Laws.

Cyndi’s List: Focuses on genealogy resources, but offers many links for writing and researching.

Getting Organized

How to Donate Published Genealogies to the Library of Congress

Adding Detail to Your Narrative
Although this focuses on more distant ancestors, the ideas work for any story.

Although I altered the information from may sites, I have given credit to the authors. Do ivist their wonderful sites listed above for more information.

©aulicino, 2008

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