Thursday, January 27, 2011

Writing a Biography? Tips from AZ Family History Expo Speaker M. Bridget Cook

I had the wonderful experience of hearing M. Bridget Cook speak at the Friday night event of the Arizona Family History Expo on January 21, 2011.  I was very impressed with her spirit and love for others that I decided to attend a class she was teaching the next day called, "Writing a Biography Even Non-Relatives Will Read."

I haven't written a biography as yet, but I have read a great number of my family's biographies.  Believe me - they could have used Bridget's touch!  When it comes time to put my genealogy research into biographical format, I will definitely apply Bridget's suggestions.  Here are a few of Bridget's tips:
  • Remember - not everything important to you is important to others.
  • If you had a hard life, no one wants to read just the negative.  Write how you triumphed over your hard life and how you are a thriving survivor.
  • Who is your audience?  Write with that in mind.
  • Remember that every hero has a flaw, and every villain has some redeeming qualities.  Include the struggles and heartaches as well as the good.
  • Keep the length readable.  If your biography is too long, don't discard it!  Make a shortened version that grandchildren will read, and hopefully you will leave them wanting more and they will seek out your more lengthier version.
  • Start with a hook to draw people in.  In fact, try to have a hook in every chapter.
  • Write a "show me" story instead of a "tell me" story.  Show them what happened; add color, humor and phrases from their day.
  • Get juicy in the details, but be careful to avoid libel and slander.  And, don't label people.
  • Every person is unique.  Find those qualities and expand upon them.  Include strengths and weaknesses.
  • Record spiritual events and beliefs that shaped the life of whom you are writing, but in such a way your audience won't feel you are being judgmental.  Write how these events shaped their life.
  • Don't forget to write about the people in their life who affected them.  Start with making a list of everyone in their life.
  • Write about career and work history, but write about the career journey, duties, talents, strengths, joys, heartaches, accolades, etc.; how it shaped their life.
  • Make sure dates, settings, etc. are accurate.
  • Write and write and write when you are on a roll.  Don't let the left brain stop you to look up dates (and distract you); you can always fill in the blanks later.
Bridget also had some practical tips to help you record the information in our day.  You can do the simple old-fashioned way of keeping a "Pocket Historian" with you every day.  It could be as simple as a 2" x 4" notebook.  Record events as they come to you. 

Or, better yet, get an Olympus digital recorder and use Dragon Naturally Speaking* (by Nuance) to transcribe your recordings.  I researched Dragon Naturally Speaking and decided that the Premium version would be better for me (see image at left), because I want to have it also transcribe audio recordings I have converted to digital format.  (I don't believe the Standard edition of this software does that.  If anyone finds otherwise, please let me know!)

There is also a free app called Dragon Naturally Speaking on ITunes, and it works well on my iPhone.  Just remember that this free app does not save the data; you must email or text it to yourself in order to preserve it.

Hope you find these tips helpful.  I would also suggest attending a Family History Expo in your area - I learn so much every time I attend.


*Supposedly I could earn a little income if you click on the Amazon link to Dragon NaturallySpeaking above, but please remember I would never promote something I would never use for myself.  If you have other suggestions for similar types of software, please let me know!  However, I am definitely loving my Dragon Naturally Speaking on my iPhone, and can't wait until I get my copy of Dragon for my computer!

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