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Family Reunions – An Infinite Supply of Stories

April 1st, 2010


I attended a family reunion not too long ago. It was a long time coming – 20 years. It was fun, interesting, emotional… and FULL of story material.

Every family reunion is rife with story potential. How did skinny Uncle Wilbur and hefty Aunt Hermione meet? Was great-grandfather REALLY a tugboat captain? And how come nobody talks about cousin Jack, who moved away and changed his name…? These are the sorts of stories that bubble to the surface when family members get together and reminisce. I heard some great stories at the reunion I recently attended.

If you are looking for something to write about, try starting at the kitchen table. Ask questions. Pry, if need be – everyone’s got a story, and some of them are nearly unbelievable; but that’s the thing about life: it has a way of imposing itself on some people so that their personal stories read like compelling novels. If you can’t find the drama in your family, consider talking to your friends about their experiences, since, as a writer, it’s important to add depth and verisimilitude to fictional (or non-fictional) characters and situations, and every bit of story inspiration helps.

I’m not suggesting you ‘steal’ someone else’s life and turn it into a novel or screenplay… But I am suggesting that you inform your work with realistic details and characters, and there’s nothing wrong with compositing characters. For instance, what if your protagonist was his family’s ‘black sheep’ who lit out for the territories and eventually became a tugboat captain? Or a couple who resemble Jack Spratt and his wife (but who are pointedly NOT named Wilbur and Hermione…)? There are lots of ways that the experiences related to us can be used in stories which will retain their inherent drama without ‘spilling the family beans.’


Unless, of course, you wish to become a biographer. If so, then all you need to do is get to know your subject: through interviews, through research, through detective work… (It helps if the subject of your biography is either alive or well documented – preferably both.) But being a Boswell is another way to tell family stories. And if they’re anywhere near as interesting or compelling as the stories I recently heard, you are guaranteed an eager audience – at your next family reunion, at the very least!

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