Last week I was looking at a beautifully designed personal history and though “we can do this, too”.
I consulted with my co-worker, Kurt, who has a lot of experience interviewing, writing, and publishing and while, and now we are on our way.
Our Goal: To create a beautiful 200-or-so-page book with my mother-in-law’s life stories
That sounds like a real goal, but I quickly realized that I needed to refine this. Of course I want it to be top-notch. It’s going to be our show piece. Fantastic layout, a couple of amazing videos, photos, sidebars, attractive time line, one or two maps. But how do I want our master piece book to be read? Do I expect anyone to read it like a novel, in once setting? Probably not. For that it would have to be …. well, a novel with a captivating plot, and no offense mom, a personal history isn’t quite that. I want this personal history to be interesting enough that my children will want to pick it up and read in it, maybe a story or chapter, maybe two. I want them to enjoy their bite-sized consumption of the book so that they want to come back for more.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading in a personal history. I really enjoyed the initial story, but then it was followed by many, many anecdotes. At first they were very enjoyable, but after a while they started to blur and I eventually closed the book rather exhausted. What do you think is the likelihood of me opening that book again?
I plan to spare my readers this ‘fatigue experience’, by splitting the book into independent, yet connected, chapters. Each chapter is going to focus on a character trait or a lesson learned and will incorporate multiple stories and anecdotes for illustration. I will order the chapters chronologically based on where the main story of the chapter fits on the time line. I may not follow that perfectly, but that is my general vision. I don’t mind adjusting and changing that vision, but I do need to have one to get me moving and to keep me organized while I am moving.
Our plan is to do a lot of interviews, 45-60 min each, over the next 2-3 weeks. Family will be in time for the holidays, they will probably contribute stories, too. We will use smart phones to record the interviews and use temi.com to transcribe them. It’s cheap and does an acceptable job.
As we collect stories we will begin to sort them by theme or topic and as soon as we have enough stories for a particular theme we will start writing the ‘chapter. I’m hiring my 25 year old daughter to do this. She is a good writer and is looking for some extra cash.
While my daughter is doing the interviews and the writing, I will also get photos scanned. We’ve been wanting to digitize all of my mother-in-law’s photos anyway, so this is a nice by-product. I will probably ask another daughter to then sit down with her grandmother and identify and annotate the photos we might want to use for the printed book.
I want to include 2 or 3 videos. Mom gave me a video tape of her performance in My Fair Lady. We’ll get that digitized and edited. That will be one of the videos. A couple of years ago my son made a really nice video of how his grandparents met. That will be the second video. And then I think we will want to add a more current interview.
That’s not a very detailed plan, but it’s good enough to get us started.