Thursday, January 9, 2014

How Big? How Many Words?

There are a myriad of ways to write a life story – there is the one that most folk think about when we talk about life story writing – a long tome that documents many of the events and stories in the life of the individual – this work is often done for or by a family member.

A fellow I knew well – he had been my son’s school teacher and later we met and worked together in a community organisation.  This man had an interesting life – quite awesome in fact with amazing stories.  He told me he was writing his story, and subsequently I bought his book and I was hugely disappointed.  It was an expensive self-published tome with a lot of errors – I had thought he would have done better  – especially as he wife had done the editing (I thought that she had been a school teacher, but I am not sure of that.)

It was written in chronological order with lots and lots of (to me) useless information, and with many (too many) photographs which made it quite an expensive book to produce.  I am sure even if all of his friends bought a copy that he would never have recouped the cost of its production. 

The book was written more for himself I think – certainly would not have been a popular read – and even though I knew him and some of his story, I found it boring, too long and I had better things to read. 

The point of this is – that you don’t have to write the story, blow by blow and include every little boring detail.  Though of course it depends of why you are writing the story and who the expected audience is.

In my collection I have a book “the book of Women” – 300 Notable Women History Passed By written by Lynne Griffin and Kelly McCann.  It is a very interesting collection of short stories – in fact some are little more than a paragraph, but the story is told succinctly and is a great read.  It is amazing how many women were so overlooked in history and the MAN given credit when it should have been the WOMAN who did.  I guess many women suspect this!!!

You can buy a copy of the book at Amazon  or you can download a copy for free here.
A couple of the stories really stood out for me – one was about Anne Bonny – and there is a small black and white sketch of her on the page.  Her story reads “A legendary pirate /bonny was definitely not to be trifled with.  When her father disinherited her in 1715, she burned down his plantation and fled to the present-day Bahamas.  As she attempted to disembark, a one-eared sailor attempted to block her way, demanding that she have a drink with him.  She drew her pistol and blasted off the other ear.  The crew stared at the scene, amazed.  “By God,” Bonny howled, “is that a head? I thought I was shooting the handle off a mug.”

I am quite sure there must be more written about her, but that paragraph tells a lot about Anne Bonny. 

The following is in the book as well, and though it is not a “life story” as such, it tells the story of an important event which started in 1917, and which we still celebrate in 2014!  No doubt we women will celebrate this date for ever.  Would you have known that International Women's Day resulted from action of three women in Russia?

The point I am trying to make is that sometimes “short is sweet”.  There is no need to record all nitty gritty details, and certainly not in a book destined for the general public and bookshelves.
You need to know why you are writing the story, and who your audience is.  Sometimes a "mini-biography" is adequate to tell the story.  There's a lot of work even in a mini biography!

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