Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Draft as Many Versions as Needed for Clarity, Part 2

Edit Is a Four Letter Word, con't

The letter D is for:

Draft as many versions as needed for clarity
Part 2: Edit by Rearranging

Often a story must be rearranged in order to create a harmony, a unity within itself. Everything aspect must blend and every area must not go beyond the intended focus. This step in revising your draft looks at the unity of individual aspects of writing. Before you begin, you need to review the purpose and direction of your writing. What is your goal for this piece? What is the focus? What message are you trying to convey?

The following areas must agree; they must be consistent throughout your writing.

1. Subject matter – Did you stay on subject or go beyond it?
2. Scope – Have you omitted some areas of your topic or have you stayed within the guidelines of your focus? Working from an outline could help keep you organized.
3. Tone – Does your story have a mood, an attitude which is consistent throughout the piece? Can the reader determine easily that your story is serious, sad, humorous, etc.?
4. Style – Does your style shine? Does the style of writing remain the same voice to the end?
5. Point of View – Did you switch point of view?
6. Characterization – Did you develop believable characters with realistic actions?
7. Scene – Do you move your reader through various scenes with ease? Do your characters interact with the scenery as needed, and is that scenery developed?
8. Tense – Are the verbs in the same tense or if there’s a reason to have different tenses, have you kept them in proper sequence. That is, if a subordinate action happens before the main action, the subordinate action must be in the past tense.
9. Sentences and Paragraphs – Does each sentence deal with similar ideas? If the ideas are distinctively different the sentences are not unified. For a unified paragraph the sentences must be related to the paragraph’s topic and be in a coherent sequence.

A coherent story is a combination of logic and form and deals with putting the various elements of your writing in good order. This includes the sequencing of words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, etc.

The major methods for organizing are chronological, spatial, and from general to specific. In using chronological sequencing, decide whether your story is best told from past to the present, present to future, or present backward to the past? Or should you start in the middle, then go back and then forward? Descriptive passages are usually best suited for spatial logic. The author should move the reader’s eye in a logical sequence such as from left to right, up to down, etc. when describing a scene. When using general to specific organization or vice-versa maintain this order throughout the story. Choose the method that best fits your story and maintain its unity throughout.

All references need to be unambiguous for the writing to be coherent. You must not lose the reader through confusion. Be careful of sentences that begin with pronouns. Does the previous sentence clarify to whom or what the pronoun refers? Refrain from using multiple pronouns in a sentence as the reader may become confused as to who did what.

Be certain that phrases are in their correct places. Check any sentence with multiple pieces by moving the phrases around to make the meaning clear.

The keypunch operator incorrectly punched in a program, which created a power failure in the building where she worked for two days.

…which created a power failure for two days in the building where she worked.2.

Smooth transitions between ideas in sentences as well as between paragraphs are important for clear understanding. When there are several ideas are of equal importance, the sentence needs a parallel structure.

She had never gone to a part alone, much less an event like this.

She had never gone alone to a party much less to an event like this.

Readers appreciate your getting to the heart of a matter in a hurry, rather than being forced to red through paragraphs or pages to find it.

Readers appreciate your getting to the heart of a matter in a hurry, rather than forcing them to read though…

We can attack at night or we can do it in the light.

We can attack by night or by day.3.

When ideas are not of equal importance, the ideas must not be placed in a parallel form. Some ideas are subordinate to others, and the sentence must clearly indicate that for the reader. For these types of sentences it is best to use one of three logical orders.

1. Time – Lay out the events in the order they occurred.
2. Relationship – Show cause and effect as needed. Time order often reflects the relationship between events.

In the following example, the order of time is used. However, this sentence also shows the order of relationship…a cause and effect.

After the storm abated, I went below. Because the porthole had opened during the storm, damage to the crew’s quarters was severe.4.

3. Emphasis – Place the most important event first to emphasize its significance.

After the storm, I went down below. The crew’s quarters were severely damaged—the porthole had opened during the storm. This, after I had just conducted a storm rill in which Howard had been permanently assigned to dog down that particular porthole.

The above example does place the focus on the open porthole rather than on the storm. For this reason, the author must be wise in selecting the type of order that best fits the focus of the writing.

Smooth transitions
One of the easiest ways to have smooth transitions between sentences is to repeat a key word or a key thought from the previous sentence. Sometimes you may wish to use a synonym, but sometimes the same word works best.

Although there are some trite phrases commonly used for transitions between paragraphs, the same technique of repeating a word or phrase used with sentences can be used with paragraphs. Often the key word, phrase, or idea in the final sentence may be repeated or restructured to use in the first sentence of the next paragraph.

Another type of transition is the one between scenes. Often the author can move the reader from one scene to another with a few simple words.

Marge sat in the den at the computer, busily typing as the wind howled. Soon creaking sounds began to intensify. She ran to the windows to see what tree was soon to be history.

Next door, the McGill’s peered from their window, gasping in unison as a huge branch from the elm just missed their house.

As you can see the words next door moved the scene from one location to the next with ease.

Another method is to leave extra line of space between paragraphs indicating that extra time has passed and, therefore, a change of scene.

In some cases, the author may choose to use the last sentence of a paragraph to change the scene rather than the first sentence of the next paragraph. Sometimes, the author may only hint at a change of scene in the last sentence. This would be done to continue the rising flow of excitement.

Bent over the desk for hours, I had managed to block out the sound of the furnace starting and stopping and the creaks of the old house while trying to focus on my writing. I was under a deadline, and the pressure was mounting when…brrr-inggg! Dang, the phone!

I raced to the living room to quiet the monster, tripping on the kids' toys….

The phone ringing indicates an immediate change of scene, whether the phone is in the same room or another.

All parts of the story must be coherent, including the beginning, middle and end. Check your story to see if it flows well between these major elements. The plot is usually hinted at in the beginning and then is developed in the middle. Here the conflict becomes apparent to the point of crisis. The ending provides the resolution of the conflict and ties up any loose ends.

Remember: Although editing is a difficult and lengthy task, you will develop skills that will improve your writing in the initial stages so editing will become easier. There is much detail here, so take one step at a time. Your readers will love you for the improvements, and you will be proud of your work.

Next, the letter D (part 3 of 3) in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
Part 3 covers Edit by Rewording

Source (adapted from):
Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revice, Edit & Rewrite, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1987.

2. Cheney, p. 59.

3. ibid., p. 64-66.

4. ibid., p. 69.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

Draft as Many Versions as Needed for Clarity, Part 1

Edit Is a Four Letter Word, con't

The letter D is for:

Draft as many versions as needed for clarity
Part 1: Edit by Reducing

Editing takes time as I have stated. Even if you choose to write only a couple of drafts and call the last one your final, it is wise to leave several days between each draft. This allows you to get a different perspective on your story. You get a fresh new look at it if you put it aside. This will help you find questionable areas and help you discover how they may be corrected.

The purpose in editing is to make your ideas clear to your reader. There are many methods to editing for clarity, so try one at a time. Remember, draft as many versions as needed for clarity. Do not mentally state you will do only two drafts before you ever begin, but leave that door open. In doing so, you will find the light at the end and be happier for it.

The following method of editing is only one way and will be presented here in three separate sections due to the length of information. The idea of editing is to first remove chunks of text that do not fit the story or chapter. Then to gradually fine tune each paragraph, each sentence, and then your words and phrases. By looking at the large picture first and narrowing your scope, you reduce your work. Remember, editing takes time, but you’ll love the finished product as will your readers.

The major steps for this section are as follows:
Part 1: Edit by Reducing
Part 2: Edit by Rearranging
Part 3: Edit by Rewording

Remember: You write for yourself; you edit for others.

Part 1: Edit by Reducing

Nonprofessional writers are excited to see so many words on a page; however, the professional is pleased to cut their writing into precise text. It is the quality of the words, not quantity that separates the novice from the pro.

When we write we tend to record everything we can recall on the subject or situation. Writing in this manner helps us remember better, and often we are either jotting facts in the margins or writing sentences out of order as more pops into our minds. This often leads to excessive information that hampers the flow of the story.

In your first revision, look for chunks of verbiage that are not needed. How do you find these chunks to remove? Ask yourself if these pieces actually move the story forward. It is very difficult for the novice to remove parts of the story, but save these chucks as they may be revived later for another story or included in this one after alterations.

After removing the larger chunks, focus on the remaining parts and rewrite to smooth any evidence of your splicing and dicing. The reader must not realize you have eliminated sections, but see only a smooth flow of ideas.

The following is an example of reduction:

The restaurant was set back from the road approximately 100 feet. There was parking on both sides of the restaurant and the area set aside for parking was separated by an area of well-kept grass.

The restaurant was set back bout 100 feet, with parking on both sides of the well-kept lawn.1.

As you repair your writing, stitching the story together, you may notice other smaller reductions which are necessary. However, do not complete these reductions at this time. Flag them in some way and return to this job later. Think of this as cleaning out the attic. You can only throw away so much at a time and must stop for fear of tossing something you may later regret. Putting time between your reductions will give you a better perspective on what is really needed.

Once you are ready to continue reduction, look at individual words to see if a larger word is less precise than a more simple word. The goal is clarity and accuracy of meaning. Each word has a slightly different meaning and the writer needs to use the most precise word possible.

As we scrutinize our writing we will find unnecessary words and phrases. For example, instead of writing, “…was very comprehensive in nature,” drop the in nature. Those words do not alter the meaning.

Next, the letter D (part 2 of 3) in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
Part 2 covers Edit by Rearranging

Source (adapted from):
Cheney, Theodore A. Rees. Getting the Words Right: How to Revice, Edit & Rewrite, Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH, 1987.

1. Cheney, p. 33.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Educate Yourself on Grammar and Punctuation Rules

Edit Is a Four Letter Word

The letter E is for: Educate yourself on grammar and punctuation rules

Volumes have been written on grammar and punctuation rules. Not only does our language constantly change, but the experts do not agree on some conventions. Different types of writing require different editing conventions. We write differently for newspapers than for books. Memoir writing is allowed more laterality than technical writing. Even publishing houses have their on editing standards.

For reasons of form and emphasis, some writers choose to break the rules. We all know that a sentence must have a subject and a verb, but for emphasis, sentence fragments are sometimes used or even one word. Paragraphs are to have a topic sentence and supporting details, but there are times when a writer uses only one sentence. In dialogue, bad grammar, and colloquial phrases are allowed. Informal writing allows contractions (I’ve, we’ll, isn’t), but technical writing does not.

For all these reasons, any writer may find it difficult to edit for grammar and punctuation.

The internet is a good reference, but use only websites which are authorities on the subject. Avoid the blogs as they allow readers to provide answers and whose authors often do not have the qualifications needed to fully understand the nuances. Editing for grammar and punctuation is not an easy task.

Reliable websites

The Perdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
Covers the basics in an easy to understand manner and provides worksheets and answers.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
Rated number one by teachers. You can buy a book or use some online links, complete with interactive and graded quizzes.

Guide to Grammar and Writing
Has an extensive index, provides quizzes and allows you to ask questions.

Next, the letter D in that four letter word Edit.
D stands for: Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Edit is a Four Letter Word

Yes, Edit—that four-letter-word which keeps many from writing and others with constant migraines. In Farewell to Arms, Hemmingway wrote the last page 39 times. When asked about this, his comment was that he did so to get it right. This may be a bit extreme, but editing takes more than one or two attempts at revising.

All of us want to leave behind our very best work. That is our vanity. However, your descendants will be grateful for whatever you write. You may choose just to write your memories and stop there, or you may wish to edit your stories and be confident readers clearly understand.

For memoir writing you should not use words to impress your reader, but rather use your natural language. Do not use words beyond your best vocabulary unless the words clarify your meaning more precisely. Your natural language is your everyday expressions, the vernacular. This natural language is used in informal situations and gives your personal history color, individuality, and variety. Even when writing dialog, use the essence of the actual speaker. Capture their personality and attitude. Editing is still important when we use the vernacular.

The language for your stories should be consistent with the tone of the events. Humor is written with a different tone than is a spiritual experience, one being light hearted with the use of hyperbole (exaggeration) while the other more sober and formal.

After writing your first draft, keeping the above tips in mind, you are ready to edit. That four-letter-word for writing is often one which is neglected for many reasons. Most people really do not know how to edit. They do not know where to begin nor understand that editing differs from proofreading.

The goal of editing is to make your reading more easily read. You must use language in a way that you do not call attention to the language, but leave the focus on the story. Language should clarify the meaning you wish to convey. The attention should be on what you wish to express and not how you express it. However, clarity is required for that result.

Books have been written on the many approaches to editing, but with the limited space of a blog, only highlights can be addressed. For the next few articles, various aspects of editing will be examined in more detail. The areas covered are as follows:

.............Educate yourself on grammar and punctuation rules.
.............Draft as many versions as needed for clarity.
.............Incorporate word and sentence variety.
.............Take time to read your story aloud.

Editing takes time. If you feel overwhelmed in the process, just focus on particular sections or aspects of the procedure. As you attempt to edit using the various methods, you will become more aware of proper writing, and you will improve the first few drafts as well as your over all writing. After corrections have been made, you will see your personal writing style emerge. If you are interested in creating that final draft to ensure clarity of your stories, be patient and work methodically toward that end. Perfection takes time.

©Aulicino 5 Dec 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Breathing Life into Your Stories

There are several methods to bringing your story to life and avoiding the chronicling of mere facts. These processes help you breathe life into your characters and your story’s environment in order to create a full, dimensional picture. Life is multi-faceted with layers upon layers of complex feelings, emotions, and actions. Your characters must come alive and exhibit those traits. You must engage your reader into caring about your characters.

Each of the techniques below goes beyond the mere stating of facts. In order to get your reader involved in your story, you must be involved. In order for you to be involved, you must create a picture in your reader’s mind that resembles what you see in your mind’s eye when you relive the story. Your story must be full of details, but written in a descriptive, creative way. However, do not go to the extreme with adding details or you will lose the movement of the plot.

The methods used for enhancing your story and making it come alive include:

1. Developing your characters
2. Being descriptive and using imaginative language
3. Setting the tone or mood
4. Having an stimulating opening paragraph
5. Using exciting verbs and a variety of sentence structures
6. Using various literary devices such as Foreshadowing and Flashback
7. Using a point of view which best allows you to tell the story

(These topics will be addressed in more detail in furture blogs.)

These techniques can be divided to help you focus on developing your characters and your story setting. Use the following questions to guide you.

Character Development:

1. Have you shown the character’s personality and physical traits through their actions in the story? Do your characters pop off the page with personality or are they only two dimensional?

2. Do the characters show their action and reactions rather than you just stating those behaviors?

3. Do you show what motivates your characters?

4. Do you make your characters’ world real to the reader?

5. Have you researched your character or the times in which your character lived to add depth to the story? Often doing this research helps you recall small facts about the situation.

6. Are you introducing too many characters at once, so the reader cannot bond to any of them? If you do not develop your characters the reader will not care about them.

Story Structure:

1. Is your opening paragraph exciting? Have you used an event to capture the reader’s interest? Have you considered flashback?

2. Have you set the tone or mood of your story by using words to describe the scene rather than just stating the setting?

3. Is there some type of conflict or struggle in your story, and do you build the action to that point?

4. Do you use imagery which brings the story alive and underscores the action? Has your description included some of the five senses?

5. Have you used imaginative language in imaginative ways? Is your story burdened by clichés, boring verbs, or repetitive words? Is your sentence structure redundant? Have you created your own similes and metaphors?

6. Are you showing as well as telling your story? Are you using your character’s actions to tell the story?

7. Do you loose your reader with the lack of transitions between paragraphs?

8. Have you foreshadowed major events? Give your reader a clue that something exciting is coming.

9. Do you use a Point of View which works best for the story?

Remember: In life there is drama, and your stories need to reflect life. It is important to put yourself into the story to understand the characters and their motivation. This helps your reader care about your characters and become involved with the story.

Your story’s heart is beating...^./\...^./\...^./\

©Aulicino, Nov 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

Blogs and Other Surrogate Homes

Although many people join a writing group or choose to write on their own, there are others who create blogs or find surrogate homes on the World Wide Web to house their personal journaling or family stories.

There are many advantages to using Internet resources for your writing. The most obvious being that you can easily share your stories with family and friends, and you can receive feedback quickly. Also, many sites are free, and there are many pages to help you with ideas and with improving your writing skills.

Blog, blog, blog

Blogging is comparable to having your own Editorial Page in the newspaper. You can write about anything you wish as often as you wish. The topics for blogs are endless. You are only limited to your imagination.

The word Blog is a contraction of Web log. Companies, corporations, newspapers, and other industries use blogs, but the most common type is the personal blog. Personal blogs are often commentaries reflective of one’s life or opinions. They make perfect spots for recording your many family stories, past and present. AND…the best part??? They are FREE!

Another wonderful advantage of having a blog is that if you are a member of Facebook, a social networking system you can add Blog Networks. By adding the Blog Networks application, you can choose which blogs you wish to read. This application puts your favorite blogs on one page so you can easily click to find them on the web. Perhaps you would want a blog on how to write your stories or on grammar. Other personal blogs which contain the authors’ family memories could give you ideas for yours. Through Blog Networks you can easily find more readers for your personal blog. There are a growing number of genealogists on Facebook who write blogs not only about their own family, but on many aspects of genealogy from “How To” to preserving photographs and more. It is a wonderful source for networking, for getting ideas for your blog and for inspiring you to write your memories.

Blogs are simple to create, even for the novice. There are choices on how to organize your website and steps to guide you through the process. You can add photos, videos, various icons, and hyperlinks. You can allow others to comment or not. You can edit any part of your blog at any time. If you need to correct or add material to a story, it is easily done.

Although there are many more sites on which you can create a Blog, the most popular sites are:

A Surrogate Home

Some writers do not have time nor interest to maintain a blog as one is often self-pressured to posting a story every week or so. For this group, there are places where you can post your stories for your friends and family to read. You could also solicit the help of your family to add their stories or to made corrections and additions to yours.
On WeBook you can invite friends to read your stories, make comments and vote on the best ones.

I do not know anyone who has used the following sites, but they are free and seem helpful.

There are many more options online, of course. Be sure to read their sites carefully. There are some that charge a one-time fee, as well.

I encourage you to open your realm of possibilities and venture into new lands. Consider being a blogger or finding a surrogate home for your stories on the Net. You will bring much joy to the genealogy community in sharing your wonderful memories as well as gain self-satisfaction for your accomplishments.

©aulicno, 7 Nov 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

All Memories Past and Present

Most of us are interested in writing about our childhood memories and family stories, bringing the past to the present. Most of those reading this are genealogists, after all.

We have been taught not to forget the past as remembering and understanding our history will help us not to repeat the parts we wish to ignore. It is very important to record what our ancestors did, how they lived, and what they thought. It is equally important, however, to record the present…that fleeting present that so quickly becomes the past.

Not only would your great-great-grandchildren wish to know what life is like now, but they would want to know more about the person who is preserving their family heritage…YOU. It is only fair that they understand you, your interests, and what your life is like currently.

It is often difficult to write about ourselves and about the present. We believe that the Internet will preserve every thought, every artifact, and every move our society makes. We often believe that our presence is of lesser importance than our past. To you that may be so, but you are not writing your memories for you, but for your descendants…and not just your children or grandchildren. You must consider a larger view and understand that your work will be passed along for many generations. Those who read about you and your family stories may not understand the terms we use today, or the specifics of our society. For these reasons, you must record the present while preserving the past.

And just how does one do that?

Many of you may already record snippets of the present and do not realize it. Those who keep a date book, write on a calendar, write letters or emails are recording the present. Gather all these into one place. That place could be a timeline which I have discussed in previous articles. Your Timeline can be used for your childhood memories, as well as a diary for more current activities. Using a computer and disciplining yourself to jot down the events of the week on a certain schedule will greatly help.

However, there are some very important topics that should be larger stories. Most of these are covered in more detail in my booklet, but for the one-line version of a few ideas, you could include writing about:

1. How and why you were given your name.
2. Your personality. (Just what do you know and understand about yourself?)
3. The role various organizations play in your life. (clubs, religion, social groups, etc.)
4. The people who have influenced your life.
5. The lessons you have learned within your life.
6. Your typical day or week.

Lastly, there are the events in society today. These are very important to record as headlines are being made daily. The following are just a few topics of great significance in recent times.

1. Where were you on 9/11, and how did if affect you and our society?
2. Rising gas prices over the last few years with a bit of relief in the present.
3. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
4. Our unique political race for President. (We will make history no matter the outcome.)
5. The financial turmoil we are experiencing.
6. The growth and direction of technology.

When you are writing about those ancestors or about your childhood, remember that you will be an ancestor to others, and they will wish to know more about you as an adult. You and the present climate are just as important as your past family members!

©aulicino, 29 Oct 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Writing Prompts: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Writing prompts, like most things in life, come in a variety of packages. Basically, there are three types: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Rather than tell you about these different styles of prompts, the following is written as an experiment to show you how well each works.

To take those three types of prompts in reverse, I’ll start with…

The Ugly

Most of us do not consider all the previous topics I have posted on this blog when we begin to write our family stories and childhood memories. Frankly, knowing about Getting Started, Timelines, Writer’s Block, Organizing Your Stories, Revising, Point of View, etc. is not necessary for you to write a wonderful selection of stories for your descendants. You only need to begin with any memory that your recall.

SO…let’s begin with that memory….

Well? Have you written on that memory? Could you think of a memory or are you still deciding upon which one to write? Was that ugly or what? Imagine doing that for all your childhood stories. How quickly would you get discouraged?

The Bad

Ok, now, let’s try this experiment. For the remainder of this article, do each step as you read it. Do not look ahead as you will only cheat yourself. Try this little test, and allow me show you the differences between writing prompts and how they affect your stories.

First, take a couple sheets of paper, your favorite writing tool, and a clock or timer.

Next, set your timer for two minutes or watch a clock, if possible, while you write.

Write any and everything that comes to mind for the next two minutes on the prompt below. Write down whatever you are thinking, even if it is not on-topic. You may have to write that you cannot think of anything.

PROMPT: Write about a time when you were a child in your neighborhood.

Stop when you reach two minutes.

Were you able to choose a story quickly or did you spend much of the time thinking? How much did you write?

The Good

Read the following prompt and do the suggested drawing. Then proceed to write your story. After you have written, answer the questions below the prompt.

“Memoing” My Memories Topic 8: The Neighborhood

It is time to focus on your neighborhood as a child and the activities and the events surrounding it. No doubt this could result in countless stories, so we will start with a great brainstorming technique to give you the bases for future writings, as well.

If you lived in more than one home, pick one for now, but try this with all of them, if you can. A neighborhood could just be the block on which you lived or the few houses surrounding your rural home.

First, think back to what your neighborhood was like. Was it rural, urban, or suburban? Did you live in a large or small town, in the middle of the city or on the perimeter?

Who were the neighbors? Can you remember their names? Which houses were theirs?

Was there a unique member of your neighborhood...a kind person who asked you to do errands and tipped you enough for a candy bar or ice cream...a grouchy person whose yard often harbored your baseball or balsa wood airplane...the person whom no one knew well…? Was there a bully on the block? (Even if it was YOU!)

What games did you play in the street or yards with neighbor kids? What games differed from the summer through the winter? Where did you play—a vacant lot, the end of the street, a particular yard? Did everyone get along?

After thinking about these things, draw a map of your childhood street. Add some features unique to each house and the names of the people in the houses. Now choose an event centered on this area and write. Be certain to jot down other ideas on which to write later. There is no doubt many great stories to tell….
©Aulicino, 2003


1. For the last exercise were you able to start writing within two minutes of completing your neighborhood map?

2. Which prompt produced the most ideas for writing?

3. By drawing the map of your neighborhood did you recall more events than with the first prompt?

4. Was it more difficult to write a story with the second prompt as you may have had many ideas?

5. Which method do you feel would be more beneficial to you in writing your childhood stories for your descendants?


The ugly business of trying to write your memories as they pop into your head is quite difficult given the busy lives we conduct. Perhaps memories might be triggered by events in our daily activities, but by the time we sit down to write, they may be gone. Often, by waiting until story ideas occur to us, we are apt to tend to other needs in life.

There are many, many bad prompts in books and on the internet. Many of us have received books from our children or grandchildren with these types of prompts and a lined page on which to write. Few people start these books and even fewer complete them. This type of one-line prompt can be useful, but lacks enough stimuli to assist people in writing quickly. You waste precious time “thinking” about a prompt when you could be writing.

The good prompts are those which do not waste your time, which provide suggestions to stimulate your memory, and which give you more than one idea for a story. This often cannot be done with one-sentence prompts.

The above prompt, The Neighborhood, is from my booklet “Memoing” My Memories which is available for sale. This booklet has 130 prompts using this detailed style to assist you in recalling your family stories and childhood memories. Although there are only 130 prompts, they are written to provide you with many more story ideas for each topic. The booklet also contains organizational tips, information on how to write a timeline when you do not have time to write longer stories, ideas for improving verbs and sentence structure, and some general writing tips. The booklet is spiral bound with a heavy cardstock cover and 70 pound Vellum pages.

Contact me directly at to purchase this booklet.

©aulicino, 26 Oct 2008

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Revising To Show, Not Tell

Journalists and other technical writers report information to their audiences. They convey information with enough details to get through the facts, fill the required space and appease their editors. Unless the story is “breaking news” for the journalist or the report is required reading by the boss, most of us hit the high spots and move on. Naturally, we do not want our descendants to treat our family stories and childhood memories in that manner.

Like the novelist, the family historian must engage their audience in such a way as to ensure the readers will continue reading the story. The key to all this is to provide enough descriptive detail to entice the reader into caring about the characters and the situation. Descriptive language is used to create images in the reader's mind and to enhance the story. Description must exist as part of the action and emotion of a character. Show how the characters behave and what they think through their actions and emotions. Do not just state (tell) an action or emotion.

And how does one do this?

For most people, the easiest way is to write the memory or family story focusing on the facts of the event, and then revise to add more detail, description, feelings, emotion, etc.

As you revise, it is important to be aware of your intended audience. Other than the facts of the situation, what would your audience like to know about their grandmother or a great-great uncle? Attach personality traits to your characters, but not by just stating that she was a strict person or he was the benevolent peacemaker. Do not tell, but show these traits through the character’s actions. What did great-grandmother do which indicated she was strict? How did others react to her behavior?

While you are revising your writing, notice the boring verbs and nouns. Replace those with exciting nouns and verbs to pull your reader into the story. For example, do not continue to say “my uncle Harry” or “he.” Describe Uncle Harry by referencing one of his traits. Begin a sentence with The old codger or As the peacemaker. These types of phrases not only reveal more about your character, but they alert the reader’s brain into thinking of Uncle Harry as more than just an uncle.

Besides showing what your characters are like, you must attend to the scenery with the same great care. It is easy to say She sat down with a cup of tea to write the letter, but it is much more interesting to describe the hiss of the kettle disrupting the silence and the evening shadows cast by the last light through the window, in order to set the mood of the letter writer in such terms that the reader sees a vivid picture of the scene and feels they are that preverbal “fly on the wall.”

Writing with descriptive evidence helps the reader make determinations about the character’s personality and behavior, thus, helping the reader evaluate that person. Getting the reader involved with the story in this manner entices the reader to move through the story with interest. They are not just reading words; they are getting involved and starting to understand the dynamics of their ancestors’ lives.

Just telling a story does not speak to the imagination of the reader. Every writer wants to be read and will be read if that imagination is sparked.

Remember to show through actions and emotions the characteristics of your ancestors and to paint a picture with your words that will be etched in your reader’s memory.

©aulicino, 23 Oct 2008

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Capturing the Reader

The whole point of writing is for someone to read your story. Yes, writing is therapy for the author, but any author desires to have readers. However, many writers of family stories tend to focus on only reporting the facts of an event, thus boring those who attempt to read it. We do not realize the reader’s excitement about our story is equal to having a hair transplant.

You must capture that reader, making him or her excited about what is happening so that the reader will continue reading. But just how do you do that?

One of my writing students summarized the method of engaging the reader as: Write for yourself; Revise for others. These are very wise words. Write your story as you remember it. This will tend to be factually-perceived sentences in chronological order. Then take the time to revise your work by using any of the methods listed below:

1. Begin your story with an exciting opening paragraph. Do not give away the climax of the story, but start with an event that draws attention and makes the reader want to find out more.

2. Use foreshadowing. This technique allows the reader to guess what may come next. Do not give too many hints of what is to come, but enough to indicate there are more interesting times which will follow.

3. Use flashback. By starting with an event, you flash back to an earlier time that is related to the story you are writing. For example, if a woman left her family without notice one day, you might look in that woman’s past to see if the behavior had occurred previously. You may discover that as a child she ran away from home. Your story would then flash back to that earlier time and the events of her leaving as a child.

4. Add more details using the five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) so the reader sees what you see in your mind and feels how you felt at the time of the event…or how the characters felt, if you were not there.

5. Write with feeling and emotion. Grab your reader and make him or her that cat in the corner. Make the reader feel they are involved in the story emotionally.

6. Make the reader care about your characters by showing their personality and their emotions. Do not report who they are or what they did. You want the reader to identify with your characters through their actions in the story.

7. Write with humor. Fresh new sentences that are humorous are best. No jokes or trite lines that are so common they are boring. Try comparing two items which are not always related. Look for links, connections, or relationships. For example: Life has taught me that in the A Plan/B Plan scenario, “A” really means “Almost works" and the “B” means “Backup.”

8. Use hyperbole. This term only means exaggeration. You must exaggerate enough that the reader realizes you are stretching the truth, but not so badly that your humor becomes boring or trite.

9. Use metaphors and similes. Both of these terms compare two unlike objects. With similes you use the words “like” and “as.” With metaphors, the comparison is enhanced by the verb.

EX: The ship cut through the waves like a plow (similie)
The ship plowed the sea. (metaphor)

You must be the Master of the Metaphor, however. That is, write your own and do not rely on those over-cooked lines, such as: He was as strong as a bull.

10. Use exciting verbs and unique phrases in your writing. Avoid redundancy.

There are many more ways to enhance your stories, and the more you read and write, you will discover ideas which will get your reader involved with your story and your characters. However, do not overuse any one method. Variety is best.

Below is an example of a paragraph which reports the facts and one which enhances the reader’s interest. Which would you rather read???

Just the Facts:
Driving east along the A-5 from Bangor Priscilla and I entered the Snowdonia mountain region of Northern Wales. As the roads were narrow and our car large, I’m sure Priscilla was a bit tense. The area was beautiful and we stopped several times so I could better see it. One stop was where a beautiful river flowed down a narrow canyon. Tourists were enjoying the view on the rock above it. We took a few photos.

We FINALLY found the A-5 and headed east from Bangor. No doubt Priscilla was white knuckling it for miles, but she maintained her wonderful demeanor as we climbed the northern mountain area of the Snowdonia region and ogled at the sites through the pass. Even though I live in a valley surrounded by mountains, they don't compare to the rugged beauty around every turn in Northern Wales. As the driver, I was unable to see the beauty as well as I liked, so several stops were made to inhale the wonders. One such stop was at a beautiful river which fell into a narrow canyon. Tourists were sitting on a rock above it, and we joined them for a picture or two.

AND, of course, the Monster Mercedes... not liking the lack of attention... started bleating for its mother (Hey, we are in sheep country here!). We had been having a time trying to find the source of its occasional beeps as we drove, but now, the beeps were replaced by rude screams, heard by all. You would think I was torturing the poor thing! At first I thought it was parked so close to the highway that the passing cars were setting off the alarm. The parking area was narrow. I finally discovered the source of its cries, but don't recall now whether a door wasn't completely shut, the trunk was ajar, the break wasn't on, the lights were aglow (MY car is much less than a Mercedes and turns off the lights automatically, but NO...NOT THIS THING! All I know is if that car didn't get its way, I heard about it. What an embarrassment! I could hear EVERYONE mumbling from each mountain top "those dumb Americans!" The beeping was still a mystery as we continued on our way.

©Aulicino, 11 Oct 2008

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:

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 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:

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:


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:

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

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Writer's Block: Turning Roadblocks into Speed Bumps

Every writer reaches a block in production. Many of the people in my classes have found that joining a writing group greatly helps them with their lack of writing. One published author joined my class and came out of her writer’s block. She now writes daily and is well into her second book. Others have joined the class to get fresh ideas and to be surrounded by supportive writers. Sharing one’s stories with others gives you the confidence and desire to continue. Writing in solitude is not greatly productive for many novice writers.

Many people have ideas on how to break their writer’s block, and what works for one may not work for another. ALSO, what worked for you in the past make not be helpful at a different time.

Often a writer can push through the lack of ideas or inspiration, but generally, it is important to understand why you have writer’s block. Knowing the reason you can only stare at a blank paper, holding a mute pen, can help you scale that brick wall, turning your roadblock into a speed bump. Writing Roadblocks vary greatly.

Getting to the source of the problem rather than just finding a way out of your writing dilemma is best. To do this you must decide why you have writer’s block. There are many reasons for not being able to write. Some may be lurking in your sub-conscience.

No Great Family Stories.
You may experience different ones at different times. Some people who wish to write their childhood memories and family stories may fee they have had a sad or uneventful life, perhaps one not worth telling or one which may be of little interest to others. So, let me first state the obvious: If we did not have the bad in the world we would not know what is good. All lives are eventful. Events in our own world over decades shape us and you never know when your words, your life’s stories will help shape someone else.

Writing and Spelling Problems.
Perhaps you are not pleased with your writing or spelling. It does not matter that you write only a timeline, a rough draft stories, or a bound booklet. The idea is to leave these precious memories for your family and the future generations. Any one would rather have a poorly written, misspelled diary, journal or pile of stories over nothing.

What you write is more important than how you write. The goal is to get the stories down. Tips to help improve your sentences are available on the Internet, if you wish to improve. However, remember the goal of writing your family stories is to share them with your descendants. Maybe not the descendants you currently know, but those in the future generations. Any of them would rather have your boring sentences and misspellings than no stories of their ancestors. Perhaps they may wonder about your writing skills, but they will surely cherish every word you write.

Cannot Get Started.
You just do not know where to begin the story of your life. I would urge you not to start at the beginning of your life, but to write on what motivates you at the moment. However, in writing individual stories, you do not have to start at the beginning of any one story, either. You can begin at the beginning or at the end. Give the lesson you learned first, then go back to explain what happened. Remember: You are not entering a contest; you are recording your history. Relax and enjoy reliving it through your writing.

No Ideas.
There are hundreds of writing prompts on the Internet, many books on the topic, and you can email me to purchase a copy of my booklet. I am sure that after you read a single page of my booklet that you will be ready to write, if the topic has any relevance to your life. My booklet is not just one-line topics, but includes many related prompts and ideas to get you jump-started.

Besides using published prompts, you can gather your own ideas with some of these techniques:

1. Brainstorming. On a blank paper start writing the first things that come to mind. Perhaps you have a topic; perhaps not. Then add the answers to such questions as who, what, why, when, where, and how. Read your finish product searching for story ideas.

2. Webbing. This is another form of brainstorming. Write a topic in the middle of your paper and then write a few words that relate to the topic in random places on your page. Draw lines to connect related topics. You can also add ideas under each of those sub-topics. Think of this as a cross between the random thoughts of brainstorming and the organized ideas of an outline.

3. Free Write. Write for a set time, and write anything that enters your mind. If that is only the statement “I can’t think of anything to write” then write it until your mind changes its thoughts. Regardless, do not stop writing. The pen must continuously flow as quickly as you can write. Try to write for at least ten minutes and increase that time, if needed. A timer works greatly for this as you should not have any time to look at a clock. Once you have finished, read what you have and try to locate some kernel that sparks a memory. Maybe it will be a story on how you were stuck when writing a high school essay, even!

4. Notebook or Note Pad.
Even famous aruthors are known to carry a note pad with them to jot down ideas as they live their daily lives. Keep a notebook with you and one beside your bed. Write down thoughts that come to you during the day or as you try to fall asleep. Often something in our lives triggers a memory. Perhaps you may wish to write about what happened that particular day. For your descendants to learn about everyday life is very worthwhile. Just think how much you would have enjoyed knowing about the daily lives of your pioneer ancestors.

5. Writing from a Photo. “A picture is worth a thousands words,” they say. Then you should be able to write a thousand words for it. Drag out the photo album and reminisce about each one. When and where was it taken? Who is in the photo? Why was the picture taken? Perhaps the photo reminds you of a story about one of the people pictured? Many stories can surround even one photo. Make notes so you can write about the other stories later.

Concerns about Sharing Your Stories.
You are concerned about sharing your writing. What if my family says the event did not happen the way I remember? What if some story I tell embarrasses or hurts someone?
These are legitimate concerns, but you must put everything in perspective by thinking ahead fifty years or more. What is the bigger picture?

1. Your Truth.
All of us have reminisced about an event only to discover our experiences and memories were totally different from another who was present. Each of us takes away from a situation the information that is relevant to us at the time. What we store in our memory is directly related to what is of interest to us and what our needs happen to be. Also, memory is stored in fragments in different parts of our brain which is why a smell or sound can help us recall what we think may have been a lost memory. Sometimes newer memories are stored in such a way in our brains that they alter the original memory a bit. These reasons are why people remember the same event differently.

What you write is your truth. It does not make it right or wrong, but YOUR truth; your point of view. If you have family members who disagree, encourage them to write their version and include both. Seeing the different perspectives can be very important as we all take away from any given situation something entirely different.

2. Family Skeletons.
Do not share your stories if you do not wish, but recognize that everyone can find something of value in what you have to say. We all have different abilities so no one can throw stones, really. As you write about a relative who has made some very bad choices in life, remember to find some good in that person as well.

All people have value. There is good and bad in everyone and life’s circumstances and our choices shape our lives. Some of us struggle more than others, but each of us tries our best to do what we think is right at the moment. We all make mistakes, and it is important to recognize those errors in ourselves and others. There are always kind and gentle ways of explaining problems. Focus on the good in people, but do not neglect the bad. Show the mistakes so lessons can be learned by the reader.

Writing these stories can bring the family closer together in a better understanding of the situation. Writing these stories can help the youth see that adults make mistakes and most often all ends well. We touch thousands of lives in our lifetime, and we will never know how we affect others. You affect others with your stories. People can find hope in knowing honestly how life really is. Rose-colored glasses hide sad eyes so bring the darkness to light and surround it with honesty and understanding.

Many more ideas are available to help you turn those roadblocks into speed bumps. After a while, your road will become smooth again.

©aulicno, 25 Sept 2008

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Making a Writing Class Work for You

Joining a writing class is the best way to get your stories written. Most of us cannot continue to write in isolation. We need that weekly stimulus, support, and ideas to keep us focused.

I have a student in my writing class who tried several teachers until she found a good fit. So do not be discouraged if the first class you attend does not work for you. Give it some time, but find another class that meets your style and needs.

Once you enroll in a class, getting the most you can from it is quite simple. Although any choices you make are up to you, it does help if you can attend each class, participate in group discussions, praise and give helpful comments to readers, share your writing weekly so you can get feedback to improve your story, and ask questions whenever you need help.

Besides getting involved with what happens in your class, you can see further benefit by noting what you like about others’ stories and emulating those ideas in your writing. Take notes as people read, jotting down ideas on how they organized the story events, how they present some aspect of their story, and what unique words or phrases they use.

The more you provide for your writing the faster you will progress toward your goals. Try to set aside a few hours several times a week to write and rewrite your stories. Reward yourself for completing a certain task.

If you have a particular writing problem, ask for help from your instructor in how to make corrections. Examples of typical problems include:

1. All sentences sound alike. Most start with a subject, then a verb and then an object.

2. Verbs are boring. Over use of the same verbs as went, bought, sat, walked, ran, etc.

3. Words are redundant. You tend to use the same words over and over.

4. Story sounds dry or boring. If your story sounds more like a manual or a news article, you probably lack description and details. Use exciting verbs, phrases and action to get your reader involved with the characters. Readers must care about the people in your story.

5. Story sounds stilted or formulaic. You are probably being too descriptive or not writing with emotion. Write from the heart and show feeling. Use description and detail to paint a picture in your reader’s mind.

6. Paragraphs are confusing. Many small or large paragraphs can be a sign that organization is weak or you do not understand topic sentences and supporting details.

7. Story does not flow smoothly. Transitions may be lacking from one paragraph to another or from one story to another. This can be an organizational or word choice problem.

Come to class with questions about your paper. Be armed with a focus and be specific, asking listeners to pay attention to whatever particular problem you feel you may have. Ask for feedback on areas you feel are weak and make a note of the group’s comments. For example: If you are concerned that a certain part of your story may not be descriptive enough (or too much so), then before you read ask the group to watch for that issue.

As in any undertaking, the more involved you are, the more you get from the situation. At times, the effort may be difficult, but persistence does end in reward. Never judge your writing against another’s work as writing styles do vary, and we all have different skill levels. Everyone can improve their writing skills, but not everyone will have the same results just as not everyone will be a great swimmer. However, remember the original goal: It does not matter in the end how well you write, but that you leave whatever stories you can for your descendants.

E. Aulicino

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gathering Information for Writing Your Memories

Gathering information for your family history comes from a variety of resources, including your particular memories as a child, family stories passed through the generations, tangible objects around you such as photos, and artifacts you have inherited or ones you wish to pass to future generations. Information stored in your memory can be stimulated through various sources outside of those in your possession, as well. Those sources may include researching on the internet or in books about your family’s history or the time periods in which they lived.

Memories are stimulated by sharing your stories with others and listening to theirs. For this reason you are encouraged to participate in a writing class on an on-going basis. You will be amazed at what you will recall and how much you can complete for your descendants.

Following are a few techniques that will help you gather more information.

Photos, Artifacts and Memorabilia

Take an inventory of all the items you have inherited and those you wish to pass to the next generation. These would include photos, recipes, ticket stubs, program booklets, documents, certificates, and various artifacts. An artifact in this situation is any tangible object you have acquired from a relative or friend that has sentimental value to you or to some family member as well as those you possess or have purchased that you wish to leave to your descendants.

By plowing through boxes of old photos and memorabilia and as you recall those keepsakes you inherited, you will remember many stories. As you sift through these items, consider these ideas:

..........When and where were the photos taken?
..........Who are the people in the photos, and what are their stories?
..........How did you obtain the memorabilia, and why have you kept it?
..........Who gave you the items you inherited; what is the history behind them and to whom did they belong?


One of the best collecting and organizational tools for writing your memories is making a timeline of your life. This timeline allows you to recall the events of your life and to collect them in an organized manner. It will be your “Table of Contents” and should appear first in your filing system. Consider a timeline your outline while writing. You will add to it as you work and as your memories return to you. Although you may begin writing only a sentence or two, it can become a source of stories on which you can expand. If you do no more than just complete a timeline for your life, you have still left your descendants a wonderful gift.

To begin, write the years from your birth to the present on the left side of your paper. If writing by hand, leave several lines of space or put one year on each page. Be prepared to revise it. If you are using a computer, leave one line of space between each year and add information as you go.

Timeline (or you could title it: Events of My Life)

1947: Jun 6. Birth of Emily……blah, blah, blah….
Sept. Parents moved from an apartment to 1997 South
8th Street, KCK


1949: Apr. 28. Sister Teresa is born


1951: July. Major flooding of the Kaw (Kansas) River in Kansas
City, Kansas.

Information about the years you skip will be added later, wherever possible. As you will have more than one entry for many years, put them in the best date order, even if you have to guess. Note that each event has a separate line. Make certain that you indicate it is a guess by adding some note or symbol, such as: circa, ?, pos. (possibly), or prob. (probably). Try to add a location for each event. Be sure to add all the addresses where you have lived with a short notation of why you moved.

Timeline Ideas
To expand your Timeline and to help you prepare for other stories, try to accomplish the following as you write about various topics.

1. Go through your photo albums or boxes and record their events on your Timeline. (Organize your photos, if you have not done so and be certain all names, dates, and locales are on the back. Use an archival photo pen to prevent damage to the picture—a huge task, so start now, doing a little at a time.)

2. Find those old Christmas Letters you wrote or you received. They are full of clues for your Timeline.

3. Did you or family members keep diaries or Journals? Locate them and record the information.

4. Do you have old letters from family and friends? They are full of great news which can enhance your stories.

5. Were you the one who wrote appointments and events on calendars and are lucky enough to have kept them? OR…perhaps you keep a date book. (HINT: These may be things you will want to do and keep for future memories, as well, and especially if you have children or grandchildren.)

6. Jot down ideas that come to mind when talking with friends and relatives. (I was at a friend’s house, and seeing a photo of her and her sister in a galvanized wash tub on a hot summer day reminded me of three short stories of my life—ones I had not remembered for years!) You never know when the memories pop into your mind so carry a notepad with you and leave one on your night stand or by your computer. Recording the memories that pop into your mind can be called “Flash memories” as they can leave as quickly as they arrive.

7. Go to many of the Web timelines by doing a Google search and seeing what historical events have happened during your life. Add these even if you do not remember them. Some you will remember, and you can write a brief sentence or two on them. If you were too young to remember these historical events, it will still be of great interest to your descendants how your life paralleled the great events in history.

8. Use your holiday gatherings to reminisce with friends and relatives about everyone's youth. You may be surprised what a relative remembers, and most people are thrilled to talk about the past.

9. Write the “flashing memories” from your notepad to your timeline.

Unknown Dates
When you cannot put a date to an event or a memory in your timeline, try these ideas:

1. List the month or season (summer, fall) under the year in your

2. Give an approximate date or age, but be sure to say it is a “good
guess” on your part. Example: about 8-10; teen years

3. Have a page or two for miscellaneous memories—ones that have no dates or have date ranges. Perhaps you could put them in groups such as “Elementary Years,” "High School Years,” “The 70s Decade,” etc. Just give each event some time frame.

Interviewing Tips

If you are fortunate enough to have living ancestors who can be interviewed, now is the time! There are several methods which can be used, but realize that once the ancestor begins sharing his or her memories your interview questions may change.

Interviews can be conducted over the phone, in person, by writing letters, by sending a blank tape (and perhaps a tape recorder), or by video taping the interviewee.

Many people love to be asked about their life’s stories, but they may not offer such stories on their own. Once deep in conversation with someone who genuinely cares, the interviewee may steer the interview in his or her own direction, sharing with you much more than expected.

There are many steps to good interviewing, and you need to be alert to the signals that will provide you with the stories you seek. Whether you are writing a letter, making a phone call or interviewing someone in person, let these tips guide you:

1. Always record the date, place and time of any interview along with the full name and relationship of the interviewer and interviewee.

2. Use a tape recorder since taking notes as someone speaks is difficult. Be sure to ask permission to tape record, however. Another option is to send blank tapes to a person to record their answers to your list of questions. Sometimes you may have to furnish a tape recorder for them, as well. It is very nice to record the voices of your family members for future generations. See future blogs for preserving cassette tapes.

3. If you are interviewing a person directly, make a morning appointment, if possible so everyone is alert. Often after lunch elderly people become quite tired.

4. Let the interviewee know how you will use the material and, if possible, have the person sign a release form giving you permission to record their story.

5. Ask clear questions with the easiest ones first.

6. Do not ask for too much information at any one time. Focus on one topic or area and let your questions come naturally from what you learn.

7. Refocus on the question or topic as needed from time to time, but permit the interviewee to follow the memories he or she recalls rather than constantly returning to your topic.

8. Ask your interview subjects “story-ending questions” as a way to wrap up his or her stories or memories. For example: Where do you go from here? What have you learned from your experience? What message do you want to pass on to the readers or descendants?

9. Take a photo of the interviewee.

10. If you are writing letters, include a self-addressed stamped envelope, and only ask a few questions in any one letter.

Research Tips

1. Always begin your research with yourself, recording the facts of your life.

2. Interview any and all members of your family, even on the same topics, as different perspectives on a situation can add more information about the event.

3. Check the backs of your photos as well as those photos of other family members for clues and information. As you do this, have family members help label the photos with full names, dates, locations, and relationships.

4. Add historical background to your writing by searching the Internet or the public library for information of the time and event.

5. Contact the family genealogist for more stories of the family or become the family genealogist. Your local genealogical society usually has beginning classes, and there are books in the public library to get you started.

6. Use the public library to locate newspapers of your ancestors or relatives. Depending upon the time period and location, you may find a few lines in the newspapers on your ancestors’ visits to relatives or about a family tragedy, marriage announcements, and obituaries.

Web Sources

Google is your friend! The Internet is the window to the world. At your fingertips, you have billions of pages covering every topic imaginable. There are many timelines on different aspects of our culture to give some background to your story’s setting. Google some products of your childhood (candy bars, cereal boxes, laundry soap your mom used, cars owned by you or your family, pets, etc.) or some scene from your past (vacation spots, movie theaters, etc.) and include a photo of it with your story. This is most helpful, if you do not have many photos that apply to your story. You may not have a photo of a family car, but recall many wonderful vacations or troubling repair stories. Using the Internet to find an example of this car will greatly enhance your story. The information for your stories that can be found on the Internet will surprise you.

The Internet has many resources which can help you identify time periods for photos as well, for example:

Hundreds of photos and clippings for fashion from late 1800s to mid 1900s

You can also use the Internet to locate various topics on which to write. However, these topics are usually one liners, and often that does not help you compile ideas on a topic quickly, leaving you using your time trying to think of information for the topic rather than writing.


There are many more books available than those mentioned here and on many more subjects related to researching and writing family stories. For example, there are excellent books on antiques to help you date your precious treasures and inexpensive booklets for birth years that give you prices of items, tell you who won the Oscars, report the news headlines and much more.

Although there are other excellent books on dating photographs the following two show how to use every clue in a photo to gain more information about it. As the author states, sometimes what is not in the photo is just as important as what is.

1. Forensic Genealogy by Colleen Fitzpatrick, PhD, 2005, Rice Book Press, Fountain Valley, California, pgs. 220. ISBN: 0-9767160-0-3

2. The Dead Horse Investigation by Colleen Fitzpatrick, PhD, 2008, Rice Book Press, Fountain Valley, California, pgs. 239. ISBN: 978-0-976-71605-1

As for writing topics, what you need to know, however, is that most books give you one-line topics with little space to develop that topic. This does not stimulate writing. If you scrapbook or are a genealogist there are many other books available with wonderful ideas on journaling and writing your family history. The following sources are much more thorough.

1. “Memoing” My Memories by Emily Aulicino, 2003, self published. Contact:

2. Celebrating the Family by, Inc, Editors of Publish, 2002 Barnes & Noble Publishing, 256 pages, ISBN: 1586635921

Gathering information for your family stories can be a rewarding experience. You can reconnect with family to get their versions, and you can get your photos and artifacts arranged and properly archived for your descendants. You might even organize a family reunion to reminisce and to collect more stories. You will have many lost memories return just by the interactions of attending a writing class. You will enjoy recalling those wonderful memories and get a better perspective on the unpleasant ones. BUT, best of all…you will have a compilation of cherished family stories to leave as your legacy.

©Aulicino, July 2008