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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

History--yours, mine, or someone else's

I like to write historical info on this blog because it is titled Seduced by History, but I have just about exhausted my research info for the books I've written lately and don't have the time to look up something new. I'm in the middle of polishing up three projects and not quite ready to start on something new, so I haven't been researching history lately.

I attended a local writer’s group a few months ago. The title of the talk given by a member was “If not, who will”. It was of course about writing family stories or history. And that had me thinking about all the genres-not just memoir writing.

We writers put a little bit of our history in everything we write. It doesn’t matter what you write–romance, sci-fi, westerns, or YA. In each project somewhere, is a scene, a scenario, a phrase that happened to you, a family member, or a friend. Something that is a part of your history.

Granted my dad wasn’t born in the 1800’s, but as a child he lived in a rural area where some things hadn’t moved ahead into the 20th century. His stories on more than one occasion have given fodder for a story or a scene in one of my books. Same with my in-laws who immigrated to the United States in the 1950’s.

At a family reunion on my mom’s side of the family, there were stories told no one would believe except in fiction! Of course names are changed to protect the instigators!

Even things my children have done end up in a story. Our lives are our history. Incorporating the good times and the bad of our lives into our characters brings them to life for the reader.

Do you use people you know or have known, personal situations, or phrases you’ve heard in your books or stories? If not, why?

Paty Jager


Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dr. Bill (William L.) Smith said...

Absolutely. Likely it will be some sort of composite activity, not necessarily a one-on-one. I'm very careful not to use an obvious personal characteristic or action directly to a fictional character. I also tend to change gender, or similar shift, to shield the behavior, as well. One opinion.

librarypat said...

Since I am not a writer, family stories haven't shown up in books. However, our life has been so full of "events" many people have said I should write a book. I'm afraid it would be a case of people saying, no way could all those things be happening, she's making it up. Believe me, in this family, truth is stranger than fiction : )

Cynthia Owens said...

Great post, Paty. I think there's a little bit of "my" history in everything I write. In my current work-in-progress, the heroine's father calls her "sweet'art," as my late dad called me. He's also a wood carver - by hobby, not profession - and my dad was a magician with wood. My little tribute to him.

Blythe Gifford said...

I have a theory that all books are autobiographical, but never in the obvious ways that a reader would be able to decipher. (Thank goodness!) So yes, there is personal history in every one of my stories.

Paty Jager said...

Dr. Smith, I do the same thing, change gender if I'm going to use a total package person. LOL But I usually take this person's attributes and this person's characteristics and make my own character.
Thanks for commenting!

Paty Jager said...

Librarypat, As a reader can you tell when a character is part of someone the author knows? Do some characters come across as more fully developed than others? It would be interesting to know if they are composites of real people or a completely made up person by the author.

I agree there are things that happen in real life that no one wold believe! But what fun family stories they make!

Paty Jager said...

Cynthia, that's great you added something of your father.

It's true I think all writers add a bit of themselves and their families in everything they write. I know I do. And the history you can glean from older relatives also becomes fodder for story ideas.

Paty Jager said...

Blythe, Thank you for commenting! I agree. I don't see how a person could write and not put themselves in some way or another into their writing.

Terry Blain said...

Since I am lucky enough to know my family history (see my blog on the 13th), some of my family history shows up in my stories.

For old time dialogue, I just become a little kid again and listen to my great uncles teasing each other on my grandmother's front porch.

Like Paty, my father grew up on a farm. My husband grew up on a farm in a rural area of Oklahoma. Even when he was a little boy in the late 1940s they didn't have electricity -- he can remember reading by a kerosene lamp.

librarypat said...

I haven't really been able to tell if a character is completely made up or a composite of those the author knows. A good author develops his/her characters well and doesn't necessarily need a real person as a model. However, a real person adds those little quirks that can make a character that much better.

Sally said...

I tend to use the first names of relatives quite often for the secondary characters.

Paty Jager said...

I had read your post, Terry. That's what triggered this one. ;)

Paty Jager said...


I agree, using quirks of people you have come across helps to make a character real. As well as giving them flaws and watching them grow int he story.

Paty Jager said...

Sally, I've done that a time or two.