How to Novelize Your Life Story or Family History By Pauline Reckentin

How to Novelize Your Life Story or Family History By Pauline Reckentin

Many people say to me, ‘My life would make a fascinating book.’ I always encourage those people to put pen to paper!

Stop for a moment and think about the soaps you watch on TV. These are families to whom things are always happening – tragedies, romances and other amazing developments, all within the course of a month or so. If you spread these events over 50 years or so, you may find that many interesting things happen in the course of your life and your family’s life, too.

So, why not make your life story or the history of your family into a novel?

This project will work for anybody, but it is easiest for people who have studied their family trees, collected the anecdotes of older members of their families, and perhaps have investigated family mysteries as they went along.

You may find you need to do more research. When making notes, include intriguing details of appearance, mannerisms, tales of who feuded with whom, and stories or rumors that may have been passed on through the generations. You need to determine how much time your book is going to encompass in the history of your family. Or, if you have time, you may get two books out of it, or a series. Consider the time line seriously.

While performing your research, create two pages about each character in the book, the essential ones you will place on the primary branches of the family tree. They are central to your story. Briefly note special manners of speaking, walking, understanding, life experiences and more. You’ll utilize these pages when you bring the characters back to life to tell their story. You can research historical dress, food, transport, household methods and so on through libraries or the Internet. You will become hooked. So be warned!

In order to get the book into a sensible format that you can follow, I would suggest the following method. Take a large sheet of paper and divide it up into say 20 parts. These will become your chapters. Number each box and leave space for you to write a heading into each one introducing the chapter each box will represent.

Now you’re now going to use a notebook to flesh out each chapter. When you start this step, it can sometimes become a frightening block. But, believe me, you can knock it down in a single sitting like this. Use a fairly thick pad of paper and do it by hand, or do it on the computer first if you want to. I do mine by hand so that, by the time I type it into the computer, I am doing an edit. Besides, I sometimes do this part propped up in my favorite armchair.

1. Take each chapter, one at a time, and consider the subjects you are going to discuss within this chapter. Make each subject into headings and make sure that you place them chronologically so that each development logically follows from what has gone before. Write your paragraphs to include these subjects and gradually involve the stories of your ‘people’ talking to one another to explain developments – i.e. ‘Did you hear that Frederika is going to have a baby?’ or ‘Move to America?’ Don’t be afraid to use conversation, as it is what makes peoples lives move along and expresses their ideas, beliefs and plans.

2. Link these paragraphs and pull them together. Give your characters thoughts and actions that give them real life. E.g. Some people lick their lips when nervous or stroke their noses. Everyone has a mannerism that family and friends recognize.

3. Don’t forget trades people. Shopping, even only fifty years ago, was different. The grocer, butcher, and greengrocer all delivered. And in some cases the milkman had a horse and cart. These little additions add color and interest and people love to learn about things they’re not familiar with.

4. Develop each chapter as you go. Don’t let yourself get hung up on chapter one, going over and over it. Do the whole book first – let it roll out and develop. By the time you get to the end, you will be in more of a condition to do an edit and probably better used to the method needed to express your own characters in this way.

5. Remember, if you write only one page a day, at the end of the year you will have three hundred and sixty five pages – a good-sized novel. There are many areas that you will have to look at and solve for yourself. You will become very adept at this as you go along. Don’t become discouraged.

6. Another area to consider is to use your five senses to bring life to your characters. For example, places have smells – cut grass, cooking, blossoms, seaside, swamp water and so on. These are all part of the atmospherics you need to remember to write about in your descriptions.

7. What kind of house or apartment do your people inhabit? Where did they live. How rich or poor were they? What do you think of as poor? Did they think they were poor? Or Rich?

A friend of mine used this method to novelize her life story, Leg Irons and Lace, which is presently being looked at for a television serial. Her next effort was her mother’s life story, The Bohemian Girl, which is also being seriously considered. Both books have been published. This lady turned 80 last week.


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Pauline M. Reckentin lives in Australia. She has a diploma from the DDIAE for short story writing and a Certificate IV in workplace training from Northpoint TAFE. Pauline is a publisher, writer, poet and artist. She has published five books – Luckier than Some, The Shortz Short Story Book (a book about writing short stories and basic English), From Deepest Night, Doppelganger and The Mindplayer. Pauline is the founder/Chairman of The Regional Writers’ Guild Inc. and runs Pine Rivers Writers – Writing Group. Her poetry has been published in a number of small magazines.

Pauline’s articles have appeared in various magazines including Heartstalk, Newswrite, NSW, and Courier Mail, and she reads her work on the Radio. She also publishes and illustrates children’s books. Her painting works are oil on canvas, acrylics and watercolour. All of the illustrations for the children’s books are hand painted in watercolour before being scanned into the computer. Pauline also gives courses in English and writing and writes special courses for special children.