3. Re-create your world, or your ancestors' world, so readers can visualize places, styles, attitudes and such. This requires some research, but it is a fun part of the process, says Thurston. You can look at old newspapers, go online, look at scrapbooks. "Try to create everyday life in that time. Look at what was going on in the world. Find things that were a cause for specific actions."
4. Write at the gut level, revealing how your experiences affected you, and infusing your story with warmth and humanity. "Sometimes we are afraid to do that. We're told not to air our dirty laundry. Some people also think that admitting weaknesses may give their children permission to do the same," she says. "But if you appear human, you will touch your readers more."
Talk about how you felt when things happened, how events shaped you, she says. Talk about lessons you learned.
"One of my students taught engineering at a university, and he said it well: 'My children only know me after I reached success. What I want them to know is how hard it was to get there.' "
5. Keep your readers turning pages by applying the techniques used by suspense writers. If you are talking about a crisis, don't reveal what happened right away, says Thurston. "Let your readers experience it with you. Most books try to end chapters on an exciting note, so you will keep reading."
6. Begin with a bang, with an opening that makes readers think, "This is going to be a great story!"
People often start with the backstory, she said. "It's better to start with a big event than with everything leading up to it. You can add that later. When Sheri Dew wrote the biography of President Hinckley, she didn't start with when he was born. She started with the press conference announcing he would be the next church president."
Family history has become a very popular pastime in recent years, says Thurston. She has been teaching for 15 years, "and I'm amazed at how much interest there is in doing it. But it is such a satisfying thing to do."
Most people want to write for their descendents, so those people will come to know them better. "But if you write a dull, lifeless story that no one wants to read," says Thurston, "that kind of defeats the purpose."
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