Dan Curtis ~ Professional Personal Historian

Entries tagged as ‘life writing’

9 Editing Tips to Turn Your Transcripts Into Gold.

June 24, 2009 · Leave a Comment


In producing a book on someone’s life story, the work of recording the  interviews is just the beginning of the creative process.  You’ll need to make transcripts of the interviews and then edit them. Editing transcripts makes the story come alive. By removing the  extraneous words and tangled syntax and structuring the transcript into a coherent and interesting narrative, you’ll strike gold. Here are nine tips that will help you with your editing.

  • Tone and style: Make sure to keep the “voice” of the person you’re editing. Don’t rewrite the interview to the point where it sounds like you!
  • Repeated words: Watch out for words and phrases that are repeated. Readers will become bored.
  • Sentence length: Vary the length of sentences. Alternating long with short sentences makes it easier and more natural to read the completed story. As a rule, the shorter the sentence, the more energy it gives the writing. Research shows that twenty-word sentences are fairly clear to most readers. Thirty-word sentences are not.
  • Adverbs: People tend to use adverbs to give emphasis. The result is the opposite. All words ending in “ly” should be used sparingly.
  • Commas: People don’t speak with commas in mind so you will have to place them in your edited transcript. Many phrases, compound sentences, and most modifying clauses call for commas. Commas make a sentence comprehensible to the reader.
  • Eliminate “just” and “so”: Whenever you encounter these words, drop them. They’re not needed.
  • Vary the first word: Try to make the first word of each paragraph as well as the first word of every sentence different.
  • Compress and clarify: Think hard about every word you use. Is it necessary? Is there a concise way to say this? Follow the rule of one idea per sentence.
  • Logical order: The story needs to be written so that the reader can easily follow the narrative. Where does the story begin? What’s in the main body? And how does it end?

I hope these tips are helpful. Do you have any other tips you’d like to suggest?

Photo by stephweiss

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Categories: Editing · How to · Life stories · Personal historian · Tips · Writing
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The Life Story Quote of The Week.

June 15, 2009 · 2 Comments


We see the world not as it is but as we are.

Anaïs Nin ~  (1903 – 1977)  was a Cuban-Spanish-French author.

We all see the world differently because of our unique upbringing, values and beliefs. I’m sometimes asked if we should be aiming for the truth in telling someone’s life story. I believe that as much as possible we should get locations, dates and names down accurately. But how a person recollects the unfolding of events is not for us to question. People in the same family will often interpret things differently. And that’s okay. Our work in recording and preserving a life story is to do justice to the telling of one person’s life as he or she perceives it.

Photo by Bob Prosser

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Categories: Life stories · Quotes · Writing
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The Life Story Quote of The Week.

May 25, 2009 · 2 Comments

memory room

So much happens to us all over the years.  So much has happened within us and through us.  We are to take time to remember what we can about it and what we dare.  That’s what taking the time to enter the room (called “Remember”) means, I think.  It means taking time to remember on purpose. It means not picking up a book for once or turning on the radio, but letting the mind journey gravely, deliberately, back through the years that have gone by but are not gone.  It means a deeper, slower kind of remembering; it means remembering as a searching and finding.  The room is there for all of us to enter if we choose.

Frederick Buechner, from Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

I like Buechner’s phrase “to remember on purpose”.  It says to me that engaging in the recording of our life story or that of another is not a frivolous undertaking. It’s serious work. It requires that we take the time to reflect on life’s journey and by so doing not only leave a legacy but a clearer understanding of self.

Will you enter the room called “Remember”?

Photo by Max R

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Categories: Life stories · Personal historian · Preservation · Writing
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What’s The Difference Between Memoirs, Autobiographies and Life Stories?

February 13, 2009 · 2 Comments

My mom far left with her sister, mother and brother

My mom far left with her sister, mother and brother

I must admit that I haven’t given much thought to the finer distinctions between life stories, memoirs, autobiographies, and personal essays until I came across Sharon Lippincott’s fine blog The Heart and Craft of Life Writing .  In a January post she loosely defines an array of life writing approaches:

  • Lifestory — informal vignettes of specific memories and events written from a personal perspective. There is no right way to go about it. They can be as informal as a journal, as impersonal as a document, or as insightful as memoir. They can be rough drafts or highly polished. They can stand alone or be incorporated as elements in a longer work. They are the perfect place for a beginner to get started.
  • Memoir — a highly personal account of a specific period of aspect of life. Memoir emphasizes personal reaction and interpretation as much or more than events. It generally implies more literary focus and polish and may evolve from a collection of lifestories.
  • Autobiography (chronicling) — an overview of your life, generally written in chronological order. The focus tends to emphasize events and circumstances more than personal observation and interpretation.
  • Journaling — a repository of raw thoughts, memories, and insights. A tool for discovering insights and documenting and recording events. Journaling is highly personal and there is no right way to do it.
  • Documenting — memorabilia that genealogists treasure like a birth and marriage certificates together with constructed documents like a time line of your life, an account of a specific event including details. Many autobiographies serve to document the details of a life. These documents often serve as supplementary material for other writing.
  • Personal Essay — the other end of the line from documenting … or maybe not. Essays document insights, beliefs, opinions, and interpretations rather than facts. An ethical will is a type of personal essay.
  • Poetry and music — valued and time-honored forms of expression….

I like Sharon’s list and would add a couple of other categories to what I call Life Narratives. Family histories are another form of narrative.  I  define them as a work that covers a span of a person’s life and includes details of other family members such as parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters. Certainly Scrapbooking, which has become the choice for many who want to capture their family story is another form of Life Narrative. I know some who have used Quilts to record stories -  the most famous of which is the The Aids Memorial Quilt.

What I find wonderful about all these ways we can capture our stories is that it reveals the richness of possibilities. So if you’re struggling trying to think of how to begin your story, maybe knowing that you don’t have to go the traditonal route will spur you on!

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Categories: How to · Life stories · Memoirs · Tips · Writing
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The life story quote of the week.

August 25, 2008 · Leave a Comment

Flickr photo by Reinis Ivanovs

Flickr photo by Reinis Ivanovs

I’m a collector of quotes. Love ‘em. There’s something about a good quote that reaches out and touches both our hearts and minds.

I decided that what I’d like to do is start a “quote of the week”. At the start of each week I’ll bring you one of my favorite life story quotes. I hope it will inspire you to work on your life story or for you to help someone with theirs. Send me some of your favorite life story quotes and the best I’ll profile in my “Quote of the Week”.

So this week’s quote is from Dr. Edward Keller:

“Memories are times and places that connect our lives. I feel that lives are viewed too modestly by their owners. But lives are precious pieces of time and are as unique as fingerprints.”

Here’s a little backgound on Dr. Keller written by Richard Volesky, from Inspire magazine.

Syrup sandwiches, homemade cottage cheese, sod houses, good times and bad – those are the things of which stories are made.

Dr. Edward Keller, a Dickinson dentist who retired in 1996, knows that very well. He has created a fulfilling second career by writing seven books and self-publishing five of them, resulting in a total of 25,000 copies. In the works is a new children’s book receiving final touches from David Christy, a Fargo illustrator.

The books mostly relate to Keller’s German-Russian roots and his early years while growing up near Strasburg, where he was born in 1927. The stories are memory pictures of his life while on a farm and attending a one-room country schoolhouse during the Dust Bowl era.

Read more here.

Categories: Life stories · Quotes
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