Become a Writer Today

How to Write a Feature Story: Step-By-Step

This article gives a step-by-step process that can be used when writing feature articles. Read more and learn how to write a feature story effectively.

Feature stories are long-form non-fiction news articles that go into detail on a given topic. The most common type of feature stories are human interest stories, interviews and news features.

All of the best feature writers know that their articles live and die on the information that is detailed within the story. However, it requires more than just quality research to create a strong feature article.

You also need to understand how to get the reader’s attention from the first paragraph, as well as how to format the body of the article, and how to write a strong conclusion. It also helps if you have a flair for creative writing, as the style involved isn’t as rigid as traditional news stories.

If all this sounds complex, then don’t fret. There is a step-by-step process that can be used when writing feature articles.

Before we share that template, let us first take a quick look at a few of the different genres of this type of story format.

1. Human Interest

2. news features, 3. lifestyle features, 4. seasonal features, 5. interview pieces, 6. color stories, 7. profile features, 8. behind the scenes, 9. travel features, 10. instructional features, something completely different, steps for writing a feature writing, 1. evaluate your story ideas, 2. do your research, 3. decide the type of feature you want to write, 4. select an appropriate writing style, 5. craft a compelling headline, 6. open with interest, 7. don’t be afraid to be creative, writing a feature story: the last word, 10 different types of feature articles.

As the title suggests, when writing human interest stories, the focus is on people. There is usually a strong emphasis on emotion within these stories.

These feature stories can involve a personal goal, achievement, or a dramatic event within someone’s (or a group of people’s) life.

It can also just be a general story about the trials and tribulations of everyday life.

Examples: ‘The leather jacket I bought in my 20s represents a different woman. I just can’t let it go’, ‘I wish I had Rami Malek as a role model growing up – I was stuck with the Mummy’.

News features are probably the most common type of feature article. Within these, there is a strong emphasis on a current event, with the story explaining the reasons behind these events.

They may also go on to examine the implications behind the news stories.

Examples: ‘Eastern Europe’s business schools rise to meet western counterparts’, MBA by numbers: Mobility of UK graduates’.

How to Write a Feature Story: Lifestyle Features

Lifestyle features usually centre around life and how it can be lived better. For instance, an example of a lifestyle feature would be ‘Six Workouts You Have to Try This Summer’, or ‘Why You Need To Try Meditation’.

Lifestyle features are common within magazines.

Example: Six ways with Asian greens: ‘They’re almost like a cross between spinach and broccoli’ .

These feature articles are specific to certain times of year.

If you work within a newsroom, it is likely that they will have a calendar that schedules the times when certain types of features are due to be written.

One of of the advantages of these types of features is that you can plan them in a way you can’t with typical news stories.

Examples: ‘ 5 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays With The New York Times ’, The Start of Summer .

Interview features have commonalities with other types of features, but are set apart as they are centred around a single interview.

A good way to strengthen this type of article is to share background information within the it. This information can be either on the interviewee, or the subject that is being discussed.

Examples: Mark Rylance on ‘Jerusalem’ and the Golf Comedy ‘Phantom of the Open’ , ‘I Deserve to Be Here’: Riding His First Professional Gig to Broadway

This is a feature that breaks down the feel and atmosphere of a hard news story.

They often accompany news writing.

Good feature writing here will help the reader imagine what it was like to be a at a certain event, or help them gain further understanding of the issues and implications involved of a story.

Examples: ‘ Why the Central African Republic adopted Bitcoin ’, ‘Admissions teams innovate to find ideal candidates’ .

A profile feature is like a mini-biography.

It tries to paint a picture of a person by revealing not only facts relating to their life, but also elements of their personality.

It can be framed around a certain time, or event within a person’s life, It can also simply be a profile detailing a person’s journey through life.

Examples: Why Ray Liotta was so much more than Goodfellas , Sabotage and pistols – was Ellen Willmott gardening’s ‘bad girl’?

These are features that give readers the inside track on what is happening.

They are particularly popular with entertainment journalists, but are used by feature writers within every sphere.

Examples: ‘‘You Just Have to Accept That Wes Is Right’: The French Dispatch crew explains how it pulled off the movie’s quietly impossible long shot ’. ‘The Diamond Desk, Surveillance Shots, and 7 Other Stories About Making Severance’.

How to Write a Feature Story: Travel Features

As you probably guessed, a travel feature often features a narrator who is writing about a place that the reader has an interest in.

It is the job of the writer to inform their audience of the experiences, sights and sounds that they can also experience if they ever visit this destination.

Examples: ‘ Palau’s world-first ‘good traveller’ incentive ’, ‘An icy mystery deep in Arctic Canada’.

‘How to’ features will always have their place and have become even more popular with the advent of the internet phenomenon known as ‘life hacks’. There is now a subsection of these features, where writers try out ‘how to’ instructional content and let the reader know how useful it actually is.

Interestingly, you don’t have to go far to find an instructional feature article. You are actually reading one at the moment.

Example: The article you are reading right now.

Of course, the above is just an overview of some of the types of features that exist. You shouldn’t get bogged down by the idea that some feature types interlope with others.

Feature writing is a dynamic area that is constantly evolving and so are the topics and styles associated with this type of writing.

If you have an idea for something completely different, don’t be afraid to try it.

Now we covered some of the main types, let’s take a look at the steps you should take when planning to write a feature article.

It sounds obvious, but the first step on the path to a good feature article is to have a strong idea. If you are struggling for inspiration, then it may be worth your while checking out popular feature sections within newspapers or websites.

For instance, the New York Times is renowned for its wonderful ‘Trending’ section , as is The Guardian , for its features. Of course, these sites should be used only for education and inspiration.

In an instructional feature article, online learning platform MasterClass gives a good overview of the type of research that needs to be done for this type of article.

It states: “Feature stories need more than straight facts and sensory details—they need evidence. Quotes, anecdotes, and interviews are all useful when gathering information for (a) feature story.”

The article also gives an overview of why research is important. It reads: “Hearing the viewpoints or recollections of witnesses, family members, or anyone else… can help (the article) feel more three-dimensional, allowing you to craft a more vivid and interesting story.”

Feature articles may involve creative writing, but they are still based on facts. That is why research should be a tenet of any article you produce in this area.

Shortly after starting your research, you will be posed the question of ‘what type of feature do I want to write?’.

The answer to this question may even change from when you had your initial idea.

For example, you may have decided that you want to do a lifestyle feature on the physical fitness plan of your local sports team. However, during research, you realized that there is a far more interesting interview piece on one of the athletes who turned their physical health around by joining the team.

Of course, that is a fictional scenario, but anyone who has ever worked within a newsroom knows how story ideas can evolve and change based on the reporting that’s done for them.

The next step is to consider the language you will be using while writing the article. As you become more experienced, this will be second nature to you. However, for now, below are a few tips.

When writing a feature, you should do so with your own unique style. Unlike straight news stories, you can insert your personality and use emotive language.

However, you should avoid too many adjectives and adverbs and other overused words . You should generally refer to the audience as ‘you’ too.

To learn more, check out our article about the best style guides .

As you can tell from the examples listed above, a good feature usually has a good headline/ header. If you are lucky enough to work in a newsroom with a good subeditor, then they will work with you to decide an eye-catching headline.

However, most of you will have to pick your features’ header on your own. Thus, it’s worth giving some time to consider this stage of the process.

It is handy to take a look at Matrix Education’s tips for creating a catchy headline.

They are as follows:

  • Use emotive language.
  • Keep it short and snappy.
  • Directly address the reader.
  • Use adjectives / adverbs.
  • Tell readers what your content is about.
  • Ask a question.
  • Give an imperative.

These are, of course, only options and they all shouldn’t be utilized at once.

Another suggestion that can be added to the list is grabbing an intriguing quote from the story and using that within the header.

Your opening paragraph should draw the reader in. It is important that you can hook them here; if you can grab them at the start, they are far more likely to go deeper into the article.

Methods of doing this include the building of tension, the posing of a rhetorical question, making an outlandish statement that is proven true later in the article, or working your way back from a monumental event that the reader is already familiar with.

Whichever you use, the primary goal should be to catch the reader’s interest and to make them want to read on.

If you need help, start with writing a five-paragraph essay .

Jean-Luc Godard said that “a story should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order”.

That statement can be somewhat applied to feature articles. However, don’t be afraid to take risks with your writing. Of course, it is important to share the information you need to share, but a feature article does offer far more room for creativity than the writing of a traditional news story.

8. Leave With A Bang

All the best feature writer leave a little something for the reader who reaches the end of the article. Whether that is a storming conclusion, or something that ties it all together, it is important that there is some sort of conclusion.

It gives your audience a feeling of satisfaction upon reading the article and will make this is the element that will make them look out for the articles that you will write in the future.

The above steps don’t necessarily need to be followed in the order they are written. However, if you are new to this type of writing, they should give you a good starting point as when creating feature articles.

When writing feature articles, you will find a style and a voice that suits you. This is a type of journalistic writing where you can embrace that creative side and run with it.

  • What is a feature story example?

Jennifer Senior won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for an article entitled ‘What Bobby McIlVaine Left Behind’, an article about the human aftermath of grief after 9/11. It is an excellent example of a quality feature article.

  • What is the difference between a feature story and a news story?

There are several differences between a feature article and a news story.

Firstly, news articles are time-sensitive, whereas there is more flexibility when a feature can be published as it will still be of interest to the public.

Secondly, feature stories are usually more long-form than news stories, with differences in style employed in both. For instance, news writing often employs the inverted pyramid, where the most important information is at the start. Whereas, feature writing has a tendency to tease out the information throughout the article.

Lastly, the ending of a news story usually happens when all the relevant and available details are shared. On the other hand, a feature story usually ends with the writer tying up the loose-ends that exist with an overall conclusion.

write a feature story about your family

Bryan Collins is the owner of Become a Writer Today. He's an author from Ireland who helps writers build authority and earn a living from their creative work. He's also a former Forbes columnist and his work has appeared in publications like Lifehacker and Fast Company.

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Begin My Story Blog

How to Write Your Personal and Family Story (Complete Guide)

  • Categories: Research for Storytelling , Writing ABC’s
  • Tags: featured , Memoir , Writing Narrative

Complete Guide to Writing and Publishing A Narrative

How to write, edit, and publish your personal story and family story.

will present what I have learned from writing personal, individual, and family narratives. This guide is based on my personal and professional experience in interviewing hundreds of people and writing thousands of narratives over the last several decades.

When I first started researching and writing a personal narrative—be it my own or about my mother, family, or others—I wanted to record the profound and thought-provoking experiences that could last for generations. Instead, I found the personal narrative of being about life and how choices determine our course and how our course provides us an opportunity to become the individuals we are and to create the legacy we leave with our ancestral lines. No matter how great or small, every story has value because life was lived, and every life is a gift. The story is about what we did with the gift.

In this “Complete Guide for Writing A Personal Narratives,” I will present what I have learned from writing personal, individual, and family narratives. This guide is based on my personal and professional experience in interviewing hundreds of people and writing thousands of narratives over the last several decades. The following are the topics that will be covered in this guide:

  • A Story Worth Writing Begins with an Outline
  • Use the “Mapping” Technique for Narrative Outlines
  • Writing A Personal Narrative—Draft One
  • Ideas for Writing the Paragraph
  • Writing A Personal Narrative—Revising the First Draft
  • Structure for Writing a Personal Narrativ e
  • Support Your Claims in A Personal Narrative
  • Include Artifacts, Photos, and Images
  • Other Elements to Include in Your Personal Narrative
  • How to Organize the Sections of Your Personal Narrative
  • Publishing Your Personal Narrative
  •   Sharing Your Personal Narrative

Other resources to consider include:

  • Complete Guide for Conducting Oral History Interviews
  • 7,500-plus Questions About Life to Ask People When Writing Narratives

1. A Story Worth Writing Begins with an Outline

A Story Worth Writing Begins with an Outline

“Why do you need an outline? I already know what I want to say.” These are the words I remember saying in tenth grade as I started my English creative writing course. As I discussed the first writing assignment with my teacher, I assured her that I could finish the story without writing the required outline. She allowed me the opportunity to prove her wrong. After several drafts, I reluctantly told the teacher I could not complete the story in the assigned time. I found myself writing and rewriting. I found myself expanding and deleting sections of each paragraph. It was never wholly what I wanted to say.

The teacher offered me a second chance. This time, I was to use an outline and then write the story. With a new topic, I wrote the outline and finished the story. I don’t remember my grade, but I remember the lesson: a story worth writing begins with an outline.

An outline is a blueprint of your final product—in this case, your narrative. It represents the content of your story, organizing your memories, lessons learned, and supporting details. The outline is all about organization and providing a visual and conceptual design of your writing.

How does an outline help in writing a personal narrative?

The outline helps you expose gaps in your story early in the process and gives you time to fill them in, not to leave out any important events, stories, and ideas that you want to tell. You will understand the full breadth of the story you write, have a clear focus on the detail you want to include with each topic, and always have a reference point to add, rearrange, and delete.

Remember, the outline is a blueprint. Just as blueprints help a builder create a structure, your outline can form the foundation or frame for the first draft.

Writing experience by experience, topic by topic: If your outline is on a computer, you can just click your cursor at any part of the outline you have created and fill in the details. This can help you overcome writer’s block. That is, you can write the third section first if you want. Then simply go back and fill in sections one and two. When you revise, you can make sure all the pieces fit together.

Modifying the design

Outlines are not set in stone. As you write, you may discover that you’ve left out essential information. If you keep a printed copy of your outline handy, you can figure out where in your outline the new information belongs and insert it (don’t be formal about it—just pencil it in). That way, you can see how the addition alters the rest of the story.

Starting again

Sometimes your original outline simply needs to be restructured. If you are careful, this is not a problem, and you can rework the original outline. When you create the new outline (even if it’s simply a sketch), focus on your purpose and who you are writing to.

Using the outline to crosscheck the final draft. Finally, suppose you update your outline as you work rather than abandon it after being created. In that case, you’ll have a handy reference to double-check the organization of the final story. The outline can also provide your section headings and subheadings for a larger story and become the contents table.

What is the outline structure for writing a personal narrative?

Like any good story, a personal narrative has three sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. The outline is designed to indicate levels of significance using major and minor headings. You will organize your information from general to specific. For example, the general headings could be as follows:

  • Childhood (0-11)
  • Adolescence (11-18)
  • Early Adulthood (18-25)
  • Prime Adulthood (25-45)
  • Middle Adult Years (45-65)
  • Senior Adulthood (65-present)

And subordinate headings or topics could include:

  • Memories of your children
  • Community Service
  • Health Record
  • Physical Characteristics
  • Social Life
  • Memorable World Events
  • Military Service
  • Counsel to Posterity

As you create your subheadings, ensure a clear relationship between the subheadings and their supporting elements. Consider the following example:

  • Mary Schreiber Attends High School
  • High School Attendance
  • High School Activities
  • Mary Schreiber Summer Work
  • Picking fruit (Cherries, Peaches)
  • Working at the Midland Cannery

Writing Personal Narrative

The most important rule for outlining is to be consistent! An outline can use topic or sentence structure, which is explained below.

Sentence Structure

A sentence outline uses complete sentences for all entries and uses correct punctuation.

  •  Advantages . Presents a more detailed overview of work, including possible topic sentences, and is easier and faster for transitioning to writing the final paper.

Topic Outline

A topic outline uses words or phrases for all entries and uses no punctuation after entries.

  • Advantages. Presents a brief overview of work and is generally more straightforward and faster to write than a sentence outline. Two simple formats seem to work well with creating an individual narrative outline—roman numeral and decimal. They are explained below:

Roman numeral I. Major Topic

A. Main Idea B. Main Idea

1. Detail of Support a. Broken down further

(1) More details (2) More Details

Decimal 1.0 Major Topic

1.1 Main Idea 1.2 Main Idea

1.2.1 Detail of Support

1.2.2.1 More details 1.2.2.2 More details

Regardless of simplicity or complexity, an outline is a pre-writing tool to help you organize your thoughts and create a roadmap for writing your narrative.

Remember, the outline is for you. It exists to help orient you within the individual narrative and to help ensure a complete answer. You can deviate from it if you wish, and as you write, you may find you have more and more ideas. Stop and take the time to brainstorm and write them down, then reassess and adjust your plan.

How do you create an outline for writing a personal narrative?

I have created a simple system for gathering and managing information when you are writing individual narratives. See the article, Easy 7 Step Color-coded File Organizing System for Writing Narratives.” If you have used the system, start with the first folder and move your way back through the folders. The system makes it effortless to create a personal narrative outline

If you didn’t use the system, start at the beginning and outline the significant events of your life. Start with your childhood years and continue through to the present. For example, the following is a very rough outline, using the roman numeral format, of the “childhood years” life stage for Mary Schreiber:

I. Childhood (0-11) (Years covered)

B. Death of Mother

1. Detail of Detail 2. Detail of Detail

C. Life with Uncle Dean and Aunt Janet

1. Detail 2. Detail

a. Detail of Detail

D. Remarriage of Mary’s Father to Step-mother

a. Detail of Detail b. Detail of Detail

Some individuals prefer to pick topics or life stages and answer predetermined questions from each stage of life to help prompt them through.

Return to list of topics for Complete Guide for Guide to Writing A Personal Narrative.

2. Use the “Mapping” Technique for Narrative Outlines

Use the "Mapping" Technique for Narrative Outlines

Whenever I need a little bit—or a lot—of extra help developing ideas that I will write about, I use what is called “mapping.” Mapping refers to organizing your ideas visually by connecting one thought with another. Eventually, the mapping will lead you to a list of ideas and a sequence to use them in.

How to use mapping to generate ideas

Use these steps to generate ideas.

  • Write the topic in the middle of the page.
  • Draw lines that branch out from that topic to other keywords or phrases you associate with that topic.
  • As needed, draw more lines that branch out from each of the keywords (subtopics) that help to develop these ideas.
  • Now that you have created a few subtopics, evaluate which subtopics go together and can be linked, if any. Connect the ideas that work together with lines.
  • If you need to regroup your ideas, write the topic in the middle of the page again and go through the first steps again with the new groupings.
  • Continue this process as many times as needed until you can form the topic groupings into the parts of your story or experience. With the bubbles and branches, you can see how they interrelate and work together as a whole.

How to use mapping to sort out stories, experiences, or paragraphs

Use these steps to expand your ideas.

  • Write your topic in the middle of a large piece of paper.
  • Take your brainstorming list and circle the central ideas.
  • Which of those ideas link to other ideas on your page? What would be the main idea? What would be subsidiary or linked ideas?
  • Now transfer the main ideas to the mapping page. Draw a circle (bubble) around the idea and then link the ideas with lines, like tree branches.
  • By connecting the ideas with branches, you show concepts and ideas interrelate. Continue to add bubbles and branches as the ideas continue to expand. Use lines and branches to show how any of the large or linked ideas interrelate. Don’t be afraid to add bubbles or branches that weren’t in your original preparation writing. Keep those ideas growing!
  • When you have completed the exercise, you can see how the ideas fit together. Once you see how the ideas work together, you can list which ideas to use in your writing.

3. Writing A Personal Narrative—Draft One

Writing A Personal Narrative—Draft One

By now, you should be ready to start writing. Whether you are writing about yourself or someone else, be honest. I have read many personal narratives over the years, and those with the most meaning include true stories about real life. The stories range from the sad and tragic to the exciting, funny, and simple day-to-day.

Gather your resource materials and find a place to write. Gather your outline and any other resource materials near you for easy reference. Now that you are ready sit down and start writing. When you open the doors of memory, you will probably be eager to capture everything just right. Sit in a comfortable place, relax, and take it one page at a time.

Write your first draft as fast as you can, without concern for style and grammar. You may think this contrary to practical writing style but write your first draft as rapidly as possible. The focus of the first draft is to put your thoughts to paper (or keyboard) as quickly as you can. Be yourself—you’ll write faster and more naturally. Don’t think that the first draft has to be perfect—you’ll probably think it’s awful, but if you worry about writing a great first draft, you’ll never finish.

Don’t spend too much time thinking about style and grammar; just write. Let yourself explore the ideas as you go. If you change your mind about saying something, don’t stop to cross it out; write an improved version. You may have a lot of repetition in your first draft. That’s fine. Only if you find you’ve veered far off-course should you revise what you’ve written before moving on. Otherwise, wait until the second draft to make changes in the first part of the book.

Where should you begin in writing a personal narrative?

Remember: you have an outline, so start wherever you like. Start in the beginning, middle, or end. Just start writing. Start writing with the intent of getting some ideas down on paper.

Use memory triggers

A memory trigger can be a question, photograph, letter, or a discussion with a friend with whom you shared an experience. Think about the times you have looked through the photo album and come across pictures and were able to experience a time past as though it was just yesterday. All your memories are still in safekeeping; it’s simply a matter of finding them.

Write your first draft in the way that’s best for you

If you are a good typist, you will probably use the keyboard. If you write longhand, you can write with pen and paper. If you have a computer and use voice-recognition software (like Dragon Naturally Speaking), then use this software to write your first draft. It is essential to write your first draft as quickly and efficiently as possible, focusing on the words but not the way you produce the words. Assume you will be revising anyway.

Use descriptive words

Think about the who, what, where, when, how, and why of each memory. Use your senses to help describe your stories. These details will help bring your stories to life.

Make a note of any ideas

One experience you will have as you write about one topic is receiving inspiration and ideas. Your thoughts will range from a new topic to add to the outline or a piece of information to add to a topic that you just finished. You may get an idea to call Aunt Peggy to ask a specific question or look for a photograph in the scrapbook. Whatever the thought, write it down or capture it electronically. When I am writing, I will keep a digital recorder (or a notebook and pen) with me not to miss those moments.

Bracket the to#ugh to write sections

Put brackets around sections that are tough to write or require further information. When you write your first draft, it’s common to either not has all the information you need or be stumped. You may be writing about a specific memory and think to put in a text from an obituary. Simply use brackets to denote that more information is needed and keep moving. For example, [Need text from Mary Schreiber Obituary] or [Need to confirm the statement made by Uncle George on Midland city project during Depression.] By using brackets, you will save a lot of time and keep your train of thought moving. When you move on to the revision phase of the writing, you can go back and work through the bracketed sections one at a time.

Need help writing?

If you are not confident of your writing ability, join a local or online writers group to learn about the craft of writing or take a writing class at a community college.

4. Ideas for Writing the Paragraph

Ideas for Writing the Paragraph

Sometimes the paragraph you are writing doesn’t seem to want to flow. The following is a simple look at constructing a paragraph, which may help you grow your ideas and write better, easier paragraphs.

A well-written, cohesive paragraph communicates one complete thought. To organize your subtopics into clear, concise thoughts, the following outline of paragraph structure is helpful.

A paragraph begins with the topic sentence, followed by supporting details and ending with closure.

  • Topic sentence. The topic sentence states the main idea of the paragraph. The topic sentence is usually the first sentence of the paragraph but can be in the middle of the end.
  • Supporting details . Once you have the topic sentence, it needs to have supporting details, which can be explained, examples, stories, facts, or a combination of these things. The supporting details will develop your topic statement and show your idea.
  • Closure. This is where you bring your ideas to a close and link your ideas to the next point or paragraph.

How can I p#lan paragraphs for writing a personal narrative?

You have plenty of ideas, you kind of know what to say, and you know the basic structure of your writing. What do you do now? You need to work out what goes where. Look at all your ideas and identify logical sequences. Consider the following points when planning your paragraphs:

  • Choose the first idea. Choose which idea the reader should know first. If all of the ideas seem equally relevant, choose the one you feel will provide the best “hook” for the reader. Choose the idea that will bring your reader into the story and guide them to what you’re thinking and answer. Choose one that will pull the reader in and orient them to your thinking and your answer. Don’t put the most dramatic ideas first. If the idea is the most dramatic, you should build-up to it.
  • Choose a second idea. After choosing the first idea, decide which idea should go second. Which one would naturally come after? Is there an idea that belongs to or is an extension of that first one?
  • Save the explanation for last. If you have an idea that needs to be explained, save it until the end so that the sentences leading up to that idea can explain your meaning more clearly.

Making the actual plan

Here is a simple outline for planning a paragraph.

  • Make a list of the order in which you want the ideas to flow. This can be as simple as one word for each idea.
  • Look at your list and ask yourself if the ideas flow naturally. If not, rearrange your thoughts until you have a plan you like.
  • Double-check that there are enough ideas written down to support your topic sentence fully.
  • If you want a more detailed plan, include smaller ideas next to each idea (subtopic or heading). You’ll use these smaller ideas to expand your thoughts. Also, include any examples you may want to use.

5. Writing A Personal Narrative—Revising the First Draft

Writing A Personal Narrative—Revising the First Draft

Your first draft is done—congratulations! That’s a good beginning. Now it’s time to revise and edit. The difference between a mediocre individual narrative and a tremendous individual narrative often comes in the revising and editing stage. I can’t stress this phase of writing enough! I have had the sad experience of writing and printing a newsletter, brochure, or flyer where thorough editing was not done, and an error (such as a misspelling) slipped by. No matter how great the work, a simple error is like a splash of mud on clean windows. Editing is like hoeing the garden: it may not be pleasant at the time, but the result is wonderful. It’s also much cheaper to catch the error now than after you have printed and bound your work.

Toward the end of my father’s life, he began to reflect upon his life and write his memoirs. He wrote well over one thousand pages in longhand. He desired to have his writings published for all of his family to read. As I read over the lines and pages, I found many beautiful stories, examples, and lessons learned, but the writing was very rough. I was willing to work with my dad to edit and prepare the writings for publication, but it was no use; he was adamant that the first draft is the way it should be because it was his story. The 1000-plus handwritten pages are now filed away and on my to-do list.

Plan on at least two edits for your narrative. In the first edit, concentrate on the organization and content. Is the story in the correct order? Did you include all the characters and events you intended? Is it clear to readers who these people are and why they do what they do? Flesh out the characters, descriptions, and dialogue (if you have included it).

In the second edit, work on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and transitions to polish the story. Edit the story as many times as necessary to make it the best you can, but realize that it will never be perfect. You have to stop editing your work and finish it at some point. You may not achieve the “perfect” individual narrative—there will always be something to add and tweak—but you will have the story you want. Remember, you can always add additional volumes. Complete the individual narrative and share it.

After you’ve edited the manuscript several times, ask other people to read it. A professional editor can make a big difference; if you plan to publish for an audience more significant than your family, professional editing is essential.

Who does the editing?

Editing is a team exercise. You will probably do most of the writing and editing and plan on at least two other people to review and assist with the editing. If you are not interested in or don’t have the skills for editing, then definitely enlist the help of others. Editors can also be for hire.

Writing Personal Narrative

Consider using Grammarly

One of the tools I use to help me in editing is an online tool called Grammarly. Grammarly’s writing app makes sure everything you type is correct and precise and easy to read. Grammarly’s algorithms flag potential issues in the text and make context-specific suggestions to help with grammar, spelling and usage, wordiness, style, punctuation, and even plagiarism. Our software explains the reasoning behind each suggestion, so you can make an informed decision about whether and how to correct an issue. Grammarly is also easy to use. There is a free version and a professional version. I use the professional version and love it.

Three types of edits

During the revision and editing process, you will engage in the following three types of editing:

  • Restructuring or reorganizing—this involves reflecting on what has been written and making significant improvements in the way parts fit together.
  • Acquiring new information—adding photos, maps, exhibits, or further research on topics to understand better topics discussed or eluded.
  • Sharpening—adding clarity by going over what is written and smoothing it out.

The Revision Stages Requires Restructuring and Reorganizing

Restructuring and reorganizing is the essential part of the revision stage. It requires that you step back and look at your writing with a fresh eye, as if you were a person fifty years from now, reading your narrative for the first time. The following are a few ideas that will help you in the editing and revising process.

Read your narrative aloud and make notes

One of the hardest things you will do as a writer is seeing your work from an outsider’s perspective. “Being too close to the forest to see the trees” is a good idiom to describe what is happening. When I read my writing, I have misspellings and usage errors that I simply gloss over or don’t see. When my wife edits my work, I’m surprised that I missed the errors she finds. I overlook many errors because I remember what I meant to say and don’t necessarily look at what I wrote. Three techniques will help you to focus on the words you have written.

Read your writings aloud at every stage of revision

Read what you have written aloud so you can hear the words. When I read what I have written aloud, I force myself to focus on what I am reading and the flow of my sentence structure. I will often catch grammatical errors or flawed writing styles when I read it aloud. When you first begin your revision, read through the whole draft of a section—start to finish—before revising the parts.

write a feature story about your family

Print out a draft of your narrative before you start editing

If you wrote your first draft on the computer, print it out before editing on the screen. By printing out what you wrote, it is much easier, for example, to evaluate the lengths of paragraphs and overall flow. You can write directly on the draft, make notes, and list changes that need to be made. You can circle sentences and draw a line to where they might fit better. With a printed copy, you can physically note which passages sound weak, need more evidence, or could benefit from more examples.

Read your essay aloud with a pencil or pen in hand

As you read aloud, make notes about what you think might need to be changed. When you read the draft the first time, make notes in the margins. If you see spelling mistakes or grammatical errors, simply circle them so you can come back to them when you start your revision and editing.

Look at your writing through a reader’s eyes

When I first started writing, I became very defensive when someone edited or commented about the writing. I took it very personally. That “filter” was keeping me from seeing how others were receiving my writing. The editing and suggestions others made were minor, but they made a difference in how the writing would be received. Even if I disagreed with the recommendation, it gave me a chance to rewrite a sentence or paragraph and make it much more straightforward. Thus, when you read your writing, you must see the writing through the reader’s eyes. The following are a few techniques to consider:

Read as if you had no interest in the personal narrative

Read your writing from the perspective of someone who has no interest in what you wrote. Writing the personal narrative is something you care about. Your first draft is essentially writing to yourself. It’s easy to skip essential facts simply because you already know them. When you read your writings from the point of view of someone who has no interest in the subject, you start asking questions or making comments—”Where’s the proof?” “That’s a lame statement.” “Why is that important?” “What was the date?” “What was it like to live in the city at that time?” You can more easily see any omissions, and this process gives you a direction of what to do to strengthen your writing.

Read your writing from the perspective of a doubter

Our personal narratives are filled with experiences that are personal, spiritual, and sensitive. When you read your writing from the perspective of a doubter, you find areas where you can add more proof and expand on details. If you wrote something negative about someone, when you read as a doubter, you take on the opinion of defending the person who was not shown in the greatest light. I have found myself “toning down” or simply leaving out my own opinion in some instances and instead just presenting the facts.

Have someone who will give you honest feedback read your writing s

The two techniques above are based on you pretending to be the audience. This technique focuses on giving your writing to someone else and having them give you honest feedback. The first level of feedback that is most important is their reaction to your writings. Were they bored? Intrigued? What did they like the most and why? What do they wish you would have expanded on or simply left out? When you ask people for their genuine, honest feedback, do so to understand that you will take their feedback seriously. You may disagree with what will be said, but you will listen, not be offended, and view it as an opportunity to write a grand individual narrative that generations will cherish.

6. Structure for Writing a Personal Narrative

Structure for Writing a Personal Narrative

Your first draft was an exercise of getting your thoughts on paper. One of the first tasks you will address when reviewing your writing is to look closely at the body of the personal narrative and decide if the reader will see and follow the flow. An excellent narrative is not simply a collection of good paragraphs; it doesn’t start and stop at random—it moves in one direction. Good structure comes about through restructuring—moving, deleting, and adding sentences, paragraphs, or even whole sections. When you focus on the structure of your writing, you are not too concerned about transitions before and after the paragraph or even about detail in spelling and grammar because you’re not sure if that word, phrasing, sentence, or paragraph will even be in the final draft.

Reorganize and rewrite personal narratives from the top down

Look at the overall organization of your ideas first, and then work your way down to the details. If your paragraphs need to be moved around, settle on the order, you are going to put them in before you rewrite them. If you need to add new material, decide where it will go before writing it. Do not waste your time revising and inserting sentences until you know where every paragraph for a section of your narrative belongs. It is easier to start revising by inserting a sentence where you need one and correcting errors in your paragraphs.

Look at how the main parts of the body are connected

Whether you developed an outline or simply started writing, look at your writing to see how the information flows. One way to analyze the flow of your writing is to write down the topic sentence and see how the information flows and holds together from one topic to the next. The main task of this exercise is to see if your paragraphs are in good order. Does one paragraph lead to the next, or do you seem to be jumping around? Are you missing material? Are questions left unanswered?

Look at the way your paragraphs begin and end

Once you have the overall flow of your writing figured out, then examine your paragraph transitions. Does one paragraph lead to another? Are you answering the questions that were discussed in the previous paragraph or providing needed information? Or are you just changing subjects at random? Look for accidental or unintended breaks in the flow that are distracting and confusing for the reader.

Look for gaps

Look for those places where your thoughts seem to jump from one point to another without linking information. As a researcher, I find that I left gaps in writing when I chose not to explain or expand an idea that I already understood and knew the background information for. I have to remember that my reader doesn’t know the detail behind the story and that I need to include the information to have the same understanding that I have gained.

7. Support Your Claims in A Personal Narrative

Support Your Claims in A Personal Narrative

When writing a personal narrative, most individuals will take your word on what you write concerning experiences and stories or about instances that are “common knowledge.” If your narrative is engaging, you should tell the reader something they don’t already know. When you write about other people, you will need a backup—beyond your word—to help develop and support what is being said. This type of backup would include newspaper articles, photos, certificates, letters, and history books. Evidence is information that tells how you know about the claim you have made. It would help if you took this very literally. It is often hard to tell the difference at first between telling readers what you know and telling them how you know it. A compelling narrative is credible by the answers you give, both about what you know and your sources for that knowledge.

Discover what claims in your personal narrative need supporting evidence

It is fair to assume that readers will accept claims about your own experiences—assuming they sound reasonable—without further evidence. If you make a claim that is not common knowledge and is not from your own experience, it requires that you add supporting information. As a researcher, keep in mind that not everyone knows everything you know.

Tell your readers how you know the claim is valid

Your narrative is devoted to answering the question, “How do you know?” When revising your personal narrative, take that question very literally. It would help if you let your reader know why you believe a claim is valid. This can be done by letting them know what you saw, read, or heard. If you believe that a claim you are making is valid, let your readers know what you saw, read, or heard that convinced you it was true. Sometimes you are going to have to do further research to confirm what you believe to be true. The following are a few examples of ways I have told readers how I know something to be true:

  •  The experience is based on personal experience. Tell your experience in a way that your readers will understand how you learned what you know. When I wrote about my mother’s physical abuse during her marriage to my father, I described what I observed. If I were to make the statement that my father abused my mother, there would be no reason for the reader to accept my statement or conclusion.
  • The experience you relate is not your own direct experience. When you write a personal narrative, many of the experiences you relate will be those shared by others in oral or written format. Simply tell the reader how you found out about the experience and how it illustrates your point and how you found out about it.
  • The experience and claims you are making are about a larger group of people or a famil y. If you are making claims about a group of people, it is essential to provide more than one experience to support the point you are trying to make. For example, if I were to claim that my Schreiber ancestry came from a rich history of raising cattle, I would then show examples of how members of the Schreiber ancestry raised cattle from several generations, gather proof of brands, articles from newspapers, photographs of the family with cattle, and so forth.

Explain your sources and cite them where necessary

To tell us how you know something, you need to tell us where the information came from. If you observed the case you are telling us about, you need to tell us that you observed it, including when and where. If you read about an experience, tell us where you read about it. If you accept the testimony of another person, you need to tell us who the person is and why or how she has the information you are providing.

Remember, the question your readers will always be asking is whether what they are reading is accurate. Your narrative will be a compilation of your personal experiences and those of others. You are always answering the question, “How do you know?” When you tell the experiences and stories of others, you are answering the question, “How do they know?” If you care about the truth you are writing about; readers need to have some way to check the reliability of your sources.

Use examples

The easiest—and usually the best—way to keep your readers interested in your writing is to use examples. All other things being equal, examples are more entertaining and involving than generalizations. In almost every case, what readers remember best from an individual narrative is an example, usually a detailed and fully developed one. In such an example, we see and hear something that happened; it shows us people (or animals or machines) acting as we see them act all the time. When I read a detailed example story, it’s like being there. It relates to a personal experience that I haven’t had but that I might have had if I had been in the right place at the right time.

Dates and places don’t have to be dull

You can increase the interest in dates and places by adding a short description. Rather than saying, “Grandpa Jones had an eighty-acre farm,” you could say, ” When he was just 25 years old, Grandpa Jones bought an eighty-acre farm located four miles from town, next to the Spanish Fork River.” Dates can tell stories, but few readers will stop to notice when they are used without the description. When you have an important day you want to draw attention to, add definition. For example: “At the age of 32, his wife died from a black widow bite, leaving him four small children under the age of 7,” or “At the age of 17, just three months shy of his eighteenth birthday, he joined the Navy as a radioman at the beginning of WWII.” These phrases are much more interesting than “His wife died in 1933” or “He joined the Navy in 1942.”

8. Include Artifacts, Photos, and Images

write a feature story about your family

As you write, edit, and prepare your narrative for publication, you will continually refer to or want to include images in your writing. The following is an overview of the types of artifacts, photos, and images you will want to consider in helping to write and tell the individual narrative.

How do I used photos and scanned images for my personal narrative?

As part of preparing your writing for publication and distribution, adding photos and scanned images is a critical consideration. What images will you choose to help tell the story? In addition to photos of people, including photos of significant buildings or other locations, including homesteads, churches, family cemeteries, or places of business. Images of certificates (such as birth, marriage, and death certificates), letters, and other personal documents will add significant value in telling the individual narrative.

I have found that the most challenging part of using images is choosing which one to use. It is a common desire to use as many images as possible, but you should choose the best images to help you tell the story. If you are talking about a family, try to find a photo of the family rather than individual photos of each person. Consider the following list of suggestions when choosing images for your narrative:

  • With your digital archive or paper archive, you created such as the one I introduced in the article, “Easy 7 Step Color-coded File Organizing System for Writing Narratives,” in front of you. Review each folder about your written story. I have organized and sorted all my images into electronic folders that match the physical paper organization I have created.
  • Place a sticky note on each photo that fits the text of the personal narrative you have written. Mark on the sticky note the section title and paragraph you believe the image would be suitable for.
  • Review each item you have tagged with a sticky note and ask the following questions: • Would I find that valuable item or interesting if it were in someone else’s narrative? • Would it be as effective to describe the item rather than include it in the book? • Is the item representative of the period in which it will be included?

Note 1: If the answer to any of the above questions is “no,” remove the sticky note and place the item back into the narrative archive. Only those items with a sticky note will be considered for use in the final, personal narrative.

Note 2: If you are using photos of persons who are still living, it is essential to gain their permission for use.

Note 3: At no time is it permitted to include vital record certificates (birth, marriage) or any related types of records of living persons.

write a feature story about your family

  • Choose the best quality and most typical images to use in the narrative. Often you won’t have the opportunity to choose the photo because it’s the only one you have, but if you do have a chance, consider the following when choosing photos:

• Get Close. Choose photos that get close. Photos, where the subjects fill the frame with only the most basic image, are just better.

• Are Not Centered. Choose photos that do not have your subject right in the center of the photo. Photographs are uninteresting and static when centered, so having an un-centered photo lends more interest to the subject.

• Aren’t rushed . Choose from photos where you have a series to choose from. You can choose where the photo will be on the page and then look for the one that best fits the space and is composed well.

• Explore all angles. Choose photos that give you a change in perspective (such as a photo shot up from an angle or down from a higher angle). The photos help eliminate distracting backgrounds, telephone poles, or other obstacles that would otherwise negatively affect your photo.

• Focus on the eyes . If possible, choose photos that have the subject looking directly at the camera. There is nothing more inviting than looking into the eyes of our friends and loved ones.

• Use the richness of the sunrise and sunset. Some of the best photos are taken during the first and last hour of sunlight each day. During these times, the light is warm and soft, lending a beautiful quality to the photograph. Choose photos that are taken during these hours.

• Shoot photos on overcast days . Photos taken on overcast days are great to use because you don’t have harsh shadows, and the colors are overall better. • Don’t use direct flash . Choose photos taken without flash. Direct camera flash often causes flat lighting and red-eye.

• Use window light . Choose photos that take advantage of soft, natural light.

• Don’t have the midday look. Midday photos are among the worst photos because the sun is bright, which creates harsh shadows on faces and objects, squinting eyes, less appealing skin tones, and overall muted colors.

  • Stay away from the scrapbook look. This is where you trim images and documents with special cutting scissors, add stickers, and write on the photo or any related activities. While it might look cute, it simply destroys the artifact and is not seen as providing any real value to what you are trying to display. Instead of scrapbooking your artifacts, spend your time writing a good and descriptive caption.
  • When you have more than one photo for a specific section, and you can’t decide which one to use, ask others for their opinions about your final selections.

write a feature story about your family

Can I use maps, documents, letters, and other artifacts in my narrative?

In addition to photographs, you can effectively use a wide variety of artifacts to help expand and bring meaning to your writings. For example, you can do the following in your personal narrative:

  • Maps. Use maps to show current boundaries for counties, states, or other areas and the boundaries that existed when your family lived there. Use a map to show the migration path of your ancestors. Use different styles of lines and a legend to show historical and current boundaries and routes of migration. When using photocopies of actual historic family documents, also include a typed transcription.
  • Grid Format. The use of documents and maps usually fits into the same grid format (explained below) for your photographs.
  • Drawing and handwritten documents. In addition to historical documents, you may find it valuable to include drawings or handwritten stories from youth, as well as newspaper clippings or notations about current activities of living family members.
  • Blank pages. Add a few blank or lined pages for future family members to make additional notes as the family grows.
  • Scanned signatures . Scanned signatures (taken from wills, letters, and so forth) placed next to photographs can be an excellent addition.
  • Note: Any works published more than seventy-five years ago are no longer covered by copyright so that you can use the pictures, but you should give credit. Be aware of copyright issues when using maps, illustrations, and other materials that are not your own.

What image layout should I use for my personal narrative?

As you begin to combine your writings with images, the following lessons that I have learned will help improve the layout and readability of your narrative:

  • Develop a layout grid for your narrative. A layout grid denotes where you will put images and text on the pages to help maintain visual consistency throughout the book. Where possible, place photos near the text (narrative or charts) describing the individuals in the picture. Accompany narratives with photos of the key people in that story.
  • Group photos from the same branch of the family tree on the same page or group of pages.
  • Create a photographic timeline, such as a series of group shots from family reunions taken over successive years. For example, pair a wedding photo of a couple with a photo from their fiftieth anniversary.
  • Enhance an otherwise dull chart with a headshot of the “head” of each primary branch of the family.
  • Instead of an initial drop-cap (a large, two- or three-line tall capital letter at the beginning of a chapter), place a photo at the start of a narrative rather than placing it “tombstone” style over the top story.

How do I prepare photos and images for my personal narrative?

You will most likely be using digital images in the final preparation of your personal narrative. Take the time to enhance your photographs using editing software. The following are a few thoughts about photo editing. I encourage you to seek more detailed how-to advice for your specific needs.

Remember. Your original photos are your negatives

Never make changes to these—always work with a copy of the photo. When you load a photo into your image manipulation program, always do a “save as” to make a copy of the photo, and then work with that copy. If you make a mistake, you can always go back to the original and try again.

What to do with photo-editing software

The most common photo-editing tasks you will perform include the following:

  • Reassemble large documents that have been photographed in sections.
  • Correct the effects of poor lighting conditions or remove shadows from your photos.
  • Compensate for distortion of the document photo caused by a poor shooting angle or curled pages.
  • Enhance the quality of document photos suffering from low contrast or hard-to-read text.

An example of editing a document

Below I’ve outlined the steps I go through in editing an image with poor lighting. This is a simple process that has worked well for me. (I use Adobe Photoshop or Elements.)

  • Import image.
  • Create a duplicate image.
  •  Rotate image, if necessary.
  • Use a cropping tool to trim the image.
  • Use an auto level, auto color, and auto contrast. Use the manual versions of these tools if needed.
  • Save as a new file with a different name.

9. Other Elements to Include in Your Personal Narrative

How to Organize the Sections of Your Personal Narrative

Where you are writing your personal narrative, there are no limits to what you can include. For example, you can add

Ancestry or family tree charts

Ancestry charts show family relationships. Careful consideration should be used when deciding to include them in your narrative because they can take up too much space, or their format might not fit the book’s layout. Most individuals will start with a common ancestor, show all descendants, or start with a current-generation and show linkage to the common ancestor. Charts do not have to be extensive. A two- to the five-generation chart can be an excellent addition. There is no right or wrong way to include ancestry charts, as long as they fit the format of your book. As a rule of thumb, use standard, commonly accepted genealogy formats. While genealogy publishing software may automatically format charts and other family data suitably, when formatting data from scratch, consider these tips:

  • When listing generations and descendants, it’s a good idea to indent bullets and numbering because it makes the information more readable.
  • Use the same formatting throughout the book when listing dates such as birth, marriage, and death.
  • When continuing information to another page, end on one individual and start the next page with a new individual.
  • Be consistent with the way you connect family lines with boxes and lines.

Chronology sheets

These sheets allow you to detail, in date order, the schools you attended, the jobs you have had, homes you’ve lived in, and so forth, as well as any other details you may wish to include. Remembering exact dates can be difficult, so indicating the year is usually sufficient.

Dedication. You may have decided before you start writing your narrative to who you want to dedicate your work. I would advise that you wait until you have completed it until you decide. Working on your narrative will stir up many old memories, feelings, and emotions, and you may change your mind about your dedication by the time you are finished.

Documentation

The first rule of genealogy is to document your resources. Should you use documentation in your narrative? Many prefer not to use footnotes or endnotes because they find them distracting. However, I believe that you should include documentation in your narrative.

You include documentation because it provides the reader with important information about your source and credibility in your writings. If readers have conflicting information, it becomes easy for them to compare their notes with yours and correct their data. When you talk about families and what they did or did not do, having the source of information makes the truth easier to understand. When you expand your research about separate topics, you give readers a place to go for further reading, such as a book, website, or article. Documentation will save you a lot of argument and time.

Once you have completed writing your narrative, take some time to reflect on the completed project. Write down your thoughts and feelings about the experience in an epilogue.

A preface is a place for you to put a few of your thoughts before you start your narrative, such as why are you writing your autobiography, what you hope to achieve by writing it, what you hope others will get out of it, any worries, fears or concerns about reliving the past, and so forth.

The index is an essential addition to your narrative. An index provides the listing of where to find mentions of topics, people, and images. If you are using a genealogy program to assist with the production of your book, you can also do indexing or use your word processing program to develop and edit it. Note: It’s a good idea to index a woman under her maiden as well as married name.

Table of contents

Next to the index, the table of contents is a necessary element of your writing. The table of contents helps others understand how the writings are organized and provides a map of your work. Use the table of contents to show general sections, such as chapters and subheadings.

Vital statistics

A listing of your vital statistics—such as your name, address, and age—is the information needed to identify the work as your own and serves as a point of reference later on. Anyone who reads your narrative will also know who the writer is.

10. How to Organize the Sections of Your Personal Narrative

How to Organize the Sections of Your Personal Narrative

The following is an example of organizing your narrative into chapters and sections for a cohesive presentation.

This is the first page after the cover, and it contains the title (and sub-title) in as few words as possible. It may also include the edition number if there is more than one edition. The title page is the place to list your name and the names of other authors and editors, as well as the place and date of publication. Copyright statement. The copyright statement is usually on the back of the title page. It includes information about the publication, such as the publishing date and who to contact for more information.

Example: Copyright 2021 by Author B. Schreiber. All rights reserved.

This is a list of chapters and sections with accompanying page numbers. It provides an outline and guides for readers to find sections that are of most interest to them.

The dedication contains the person or people to whom you are dedicating the personal narrative and why. It is usually written on the page after the copyright page.

List of illustrations

This contains the name and page number of each picture, map, or illustration in the individual narrative.

A foreword is a statement about the personal narrative written by someone other than you or the editor.

This statement, written by you, describes why you wrote the personal narrative, provides an overview of the personal narrative’s scope, content, and organization; and outlines the research methods you used. It also provides an address for readers who wish to contact you.

Acknowledgments

An acknowledgments page is a place to show gratitude to people or institutions who helped you research, compile, edit, or otherwise put together your narrative.

List of abbreviations

This reference contains the abbreviations you have used in your personal or family narrative and their meanings.

Introduction

An introduction contains background or historical information that may be needed to understand the personal or family narrative.

List of contributors

This lists the names of people who helped write the personal or family narrative.

A chronology provides dates and descriptions of important events in a personal or family narrative. It gives readers an overview of the events that shaped the person’s life and provides a quick reference to critical events. Including a chronology is handy if your history is not arranged chronologically.

The main text of your narrative is usually divided into several sections or chapters and can also be divided according to the period. You can use divider pages to separate the chapters. The text may contain footnotes, endnotes, and so forth, as well as illustrations, photographs, maps, or copies of records and certificates.

Appendix or appendices

An appendix contains information that is not essential to the main body of the text but may be helpful to readers who want more specific information about a topic. An appendix can also list the sources used in writing your history.

Family group sheets, pedigree charts, and similar items Bibliography. A bibliography lists the sources you used in compiling your narrative.

This list of individuals, place names, and subjects mentioned in your history, with page numbers of where the topic is mentioned.

11. Publishing Your Personal Narrative

Publishing Your Personal Narrative

When writing your personal narrative, there are many options of how to publish the narrative. However, before you start talking about publishing, you need to ask yourself a few questions, such as the following:

How good is my material?

  • How thorough has your research been?
  • Are you satisfied with the accuracy of the information you have acquired, and have you documented your sources?
  • If your research contains hypotheses or conclusions that are based only on conjecture, are you willing to state them as such? This will help other researchers put your work in context and, hopefully, encourage additional research.
  • If there are gaps or questionable data, you should probably conduct additional research to make your publication the best it can be.

Does the information present a cohesive picture of the family?

  • Are there significant chronological gaps in your research, missing individuals, or missing important dates?
  • Do the family stories relating to historical events fit with documented historical facts? Can you prove them?

Are you a good writer?

  • You may want to enlist the writing or editorial assistance of someone good with words, sentence construction, punctuation, and writing engaging text.

Are you sure you want to share your research with others?

  • Suppose you plan to publish material on the Internet (see below). Are you ready to extend your research range and invite other researchers and family members to contribute more material or challenge your publishing?
  • You are always sure to receive feedback in some form or another. If you receive corrections to your data or additional data, are you prepared to publish a revised edition of your work?

All of these issues influence your decision about when to publish. As you proceed with the desire to publish, you will have multiple options for publication, including the following formats:

Individuals will sometimes use a blog to publish their narratives or the narratives of their families. The format is much like that of an online journal. The process of posting to a blog is relatively simple. It becomes an easy and inexpensive way of sharing your personal narrative. A typical blog includes the following elements:

  • Short, informational entries—generally arranged in reverse chronological order
  • A time or date for each post
  • Links to other blogs or websites for additional content
  • Archives of all previously posted content, sometimes arranged into categories

If you decide to use a blog to publish your personal or family narrative, focus on telling stories about individuals. You can include photographs, video, audio, and scanned images such as a newspaper article or letter. You can organize your posts into individual or family groupings. Include your documentation where appropriate. If you are in the process of researching a family line, you can tell the stories as you discover them.

Family newsletter

Family newsletters usually focus on happenings of the family that is usually spread far and wide. Many family newsletters also become a medium to share family narratives and include documents, stories, photos, and newly discovered facts with all interested researchers. Newsletters are usually published two to four times a year by printing, photocopying, or electronically posting.

Family narrative thumb-drive, CD or DVD

A family narrative thumb-drive, CD or DVD can hold large amounts of data in a small space. It can include photos, sounds, scanned document images, and even video—something a printed personal or family narrative can’t do. And since they are compact and relatively inexpensive, you can easily share them with other personal or family narrative researchers at family reunions, genealogical conferences, or through the mail. One of the biggest challenges in creating a family narrative thumb-drive, CD or DVD is to decide what information you’d like to present and how to organize the information. Suppose you’ve spent years studying the genealogy of a particular family or surname. In that case, you probably want to include the results of that research in the form of lineage-linked family trees or register reports. You may also want to include a written family narrative or photographs of your ancestors, their houses, headstones, and so on. Or perhaps you have video or sound recordings of ancestors or family members you would like to showcase.

What are my options for printing and publishing my personal narrative?

Of all the options, printing and publishing is usually the first option you consider when sharing your research and personal narrative. Self-publishing your personal narrative is a relatively simple process with the available technologies. Options range from a simple printout of a word-processing document to a book layout in a desktop publishing program. If you chose to do a book layout, you can then print your book at a quick-copy, bind it with a spiral ring, or print at an offset press and have it professionally bound. You can print a few copies and distribute them to a few families or publish and sell many copies to the public.

Google search

I would encourage you to do a Google search on “How to self-publish a person narrative or history.”

The following are a few lessons learned by others about publishing their narratives with publishers.

Quick copy versus book publisher

If you plan to print under two hundred copies, you are probably better off going to a quick-copy, although specialty publishers take on “short-run” projects. Most commercial publishers prefer a print “run” of more than five hundred books. Printed books are usually well designed and of good quality.

If you’re publishing a few copies of the book for your family only, you can lay the book out in a word processor and have it printed at a local printer or even print the pages on your home printer and insert them in loose-leaf binders.

If you’re publishing for a wider audience, you’ll need to hire professionals for the interior and cover design and printing. You can contract with individual vendors for the various services you need or hire someone to handle everything. Be wary of publishing companies that charge you hefty fees to publish your narrative and then purchase the book copies. Check the credentials and references of professionals you use and interview them to ensure you’re comfortable working with them.

Talk to publishers before you start. Start talking to publishers when you start writing a personal narrative. They will help walk you through design and formatting options that will affect what you write and format.

Review other personal narratives to gain ideas

Take the time before you start writing your book to browse through other personal or family narrative books to see how others have done it. Photocopy pages from the book you like so you have them as a reference when planning your book. Factors to consider include the paper type and quality, print size and style, number of photos, and binding. A little extra time and money can go a long way toward making your book as attractive as possible—and keep it within your budget parameters.

Compare costs. Call a few potential publishers and printers to compare costs and quality of service and find out their requirements for publishing a personal narrative. To obtain an estimate for a whole life story, plan for a book of two hundred pages, including images, with enough copies to distribute to your parents, siblings, children, and grandchildren (and a few extras). If you want to be more exact, provide the publisher exactly how many pages are in your manuscript. It is always a good idea to take your finished manuscript with you, including the mockup of picture pages, introductory pages, and appendixes. If you want to spend more, you can have your narrative printed by an offset publisher. The quality will be better, but the high additional cost may not justify the additional quality.

How to fund publishing

It is unnecessary to spend a lot of money completing a personal narrative, but it should look good and read well if you are going to do it. It’s not uncommon for individuals writing family narratives to have the total project funded by family members, provided you are doing the work.

Ask for samples

Ask your publisher to see samples of the types of binding they offer. Most publishers will show you a variety of bindings. Having your narrative hardbound with a sewn binding is not a requirement; however, it will last longer than other types of binding. Your goal is to publish and distribute your narrative, regardless of how it is bound.

Work with the publisher

If available, have your publisher archive your narrative for you. Many publishers will offer a one-time storage fee and keep it for you in digital form, which you may use later to make additional copies.

Use electronic files

Use a publisher that prints copies from a file you’ve saved to on your computer. Each copy will then be as good as the original. Contact your publisher to find out what file format they prefer. Most publishers will accept files in recent versions of Microsoft Word, Corel WordPerfect, and other widely used word processing programs. Extra care should be taken to ensure that the end product is acceptable and correct.

Paper makes a difference

20 lb. paper is acceptable (but too thin to print on both sides of the page), but 24 lb. is better and 60 lb. is best. Double-sided printing is preferable. The standard paper will discolor and become brittle within fifty years, so always have your narrative printed on acid-free paper.

Black-and-white photos are bes t

All photographs and images should be copied into black and white images. Black and white images will preserve much longer than color images, and printing black and white images is much cheaper than printing full-color photos.

Layout considerations and options

There will be many details to remember when defining how your narrative will appear on the page. For example, you will need to think about the book’s size. The standard paper size is 8.5 by 11 inches and will be the most cost-effective to duplicate. Smaller page sizes may be more attractive but will require more pages and will be more expensive as the pages will have to be cut to smaller. Other layout considerations include the following:

  •  Stay away from trying to use a fancy-type face. Use fonts like Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial, or members of serif text families. These fonts are easy to read.
  • It’s always a good idea to use a large face such as 10 to 12 point types with average margins for one or two-column formats.
  • When you align your text, you can justify your text (aligning your text on the left side of the page with a ragged right) or justify the text with a flush left and right.
  • There are many different types of binding available for your narrative. Search the one that best fits your budget and at the same time fulfills the purpose you have in mind for the book.
  • Remember, you must make the side you will bind to be V4″ more significant than the outside edge when you are laying out the page. For example, your binding edge will need your binding edge if your outside edge is V2″ 314″ wide.
  • Take great care in writing the captions in your book. For example, try to the best of your ability to include the name of every person in the photograph. When you have large groups of people and cannot identify everyone, give the photo’s date.

12. Sharing Your Personal Narrative

Sharing Your Personal Narrative

Throughout the writing of your personal narrative, keep your eyes focused on the completion and distribution. The following are a few ideas to consider:

Publish several extra books for future generations. Posterity should have easy access to your narrative.

  • Donate copies to libraries or other institutions.
  • Post it on the Internet.
  • Donate a copy to your local library.
  • Donate a copy to the Salt Lake Family History Library.
  • Permit microfilm using the Family History Library’s “Permission to Duplicate” form.
  • Send a letter of permission with your manuscript.
  • Send an unbound copy as it’s easier to microfilm.
  • Plan ahead for the publishing and marketing of your book.
  • Be alert for contacts and opportunities for promotion as you research and write.

Keep good records of anyone who has been contacted or helped with the book. You will contact them as potential buyers or persons who will help publish and distribute the personal narrative book.

When I first started researching and writing a personal narrative—be it my own or about my mother, family, or others—I wanted to record the profound and thought-provoking experiences that could last for generations. Instead, I found the narrative of being about life and how choices determine our course and how our course provides us an opportunity to become the individuals we are and to create the legacy we leave with our ancestral lines. No matter how great or small, every story has value because life was lived, and every life is a gift. The story is about what we did with the gift.

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write a feature story about your family

write a feature story about your family

7 examples of engaging feature stories

panning photography of flying blue, yellow, and red hot air balloon

Kimberlee Meier — Contributing Writer

There are two dominant trends in content on the web today.

The first is that content is getting shorter. With the rise of TikTok and the ongoing importance of other social media platforms, brands need to be adept at producing shortform content.

But the second dominant trend — forgive the contradiction — is that content outside of social media is actually getting longer. As we explain in our guide to longform content , media and marketing teams are increasingly investing in longer, professionally produced content to capture and keep their reader's attention.

The main type of longform content they are investing in is the feature article or feature story. Following the lead of major news publications, these teams are creating truly engaging and immersive multimedia content. 

Take, for example, Los fogones de la Kitchen . This illustrated news story from El Periódico covers an illegal operation to spy on a Spanish politician. With animations triggered by the scroll of the reader, it is an interactive and powerful example of modern feature storytelling. 

Screenshots from an illustrated feature story from El Periodico

What do the BBC, Tripadvisor, and Penguin have in common? They craft stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you! Publish your first story for free — no code or web design skills required. Sign up now.

In this guide, we're going to run through 7 examples of feature stories to inspire your own content strategy. These examples are informative, entertaining, and visually appealing—just what a brand needs to keep people’s attention. 

We'll also cover what goes into creating a great feature story, and how to learn from those who are doing them well. 

Ready to learn how to create captivating feature stories of your own? Let's get started.

What is a feature story?

write a feature story about your family

A feature story is a piece of longform non-fiction content that covers a single topic in detail. Examples of feature stories include news features, in-depth profiles, human interest stories, science communication , data storytelling , and more. 

Feature stories are a common type of content for news organisations, particularly those who invest in longform journalism . 

Increasingly, brands are also investing in producing their own high-quality feature stories. One example comes from analytics company RELX, who published a powerful overview of the purpose behind their Eyewitness to Atrocities app.

Screenshot of RELX's feature story on bringing war criminals to justice

How are feature stories changing?

A decade ago, most feature stories on the web were visually uninteresting. Usually, they would be digital versions of print articles, with the same images and copy. 

With recent improvements in internet speed and browsers — coupled with the rise of more advanced content creation platforms — we're seeing a dramatic increase in visually immersive multimedia feature articles.

These stories use a combination of high-resolution, full-bleed images, video, illustrations, and scrollytelling to sustain the attention of digital readers. Often, these stories are created with digital storytelling platforms , which are empowering feature writers to create stunning interactive content without writing a line of code.

Now, let's dive into our examples👇

7 examples of stunning feature stories

write a feature story about your family

1 Arab News

When Arab News decided to showcase Saudi Arabia's UNESCO's World Heritage sites, a standard longform article wasn’t going to cut it. 

So, the news agency decided to tell it as a feature story powered by digital elements like maps, video, historical pictures, and illustrations. 

Each of the five UNESCO sites located in Saudi Arabia is given its own section. This room allowed Arab News the room to explain, in detail, the history of each site and what it looks like today. 

Although the piece is long, it does give the UNESCO sites the space and in-depth reporting to turn this into a stunning example of a feature story.

Screenshots from a Arab News feature story on Saudi Arabia's heritage treasures

In the 1930s, America's Federal Government enacted redlining policies that segregated Black and white citizens with homeownership. 

Despite the Supreme Court ruling in 1948 that racial bias in deed restrictions was illegal, Detroit remains one of the most segregated cities in the country. To tell this important story, NBC News created an immersive and interactive feature story out of images and video to showcase the issue of segregation in modern Detroit.

The mix of data, visuals, video, and interviews with citizens who grew up in segregated neighborhoods make this feature story a compelling read.

Screenshots from NBC feature story on the segregation of Detroit.

3 Pioneers Post 

In the race to combat climate change, the citizens of Gambia—one of Africa's smallest countries—realised that the clock is ticking. 

So, the locals and family farmers living on the north bank of the Gambia river took matters into their own hands and created plans to reforest an 8,000km stretch of land. 

Not only does this Pioneers Post feature story do a fantastic job at highlighting the plight of the villagers and their project to revive the environment, but it also explains the impact of global warming on their area with maps and visuals.

Screenshots from Pioneers Post feature story on climate change

4 Hoover Institute 

As a society, we are fascinated by each other's cultures. And more often than not, governments are involved in telling stories about what those cultures look like. 

Women in Chinese Propaganda by the Hoover Institute takes a deeper look at how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) depicted women in the early days of its regime. Using a mix of illustrations, history, and interactive features, the reader is plunged into the story the regime told the world about how its women lived in the 1950s. 

The feature story also talks about the ties the propaganda has to cultural products, like plays and operas, as well as how marriage was depicted in the early days of the CCP.

Screenshots from the Hoover Institute feature story on Chinese propaganga

Join the BBC, Unicef, and Penguin. Publish stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. Publish your first story for free — no code or web design skills required. Get started.

5 BBC 

When an apartment building in La Villeneuve, France, caught fire in 2020, two children were trapped in the inferno. 

As villagers watched on, the scene grew desperate—until a group of local citizens came up with a solution: the children would jump, and the citizens would catch them.

The BBC detailed the events of that day and accounts of the hero citizens who saved the children's lives in their interactive feature story, The Catch .

Using a mix of illustrations, photographs, and interviews from people involved in the life-saving rescue, the feature story succeeds in putting the reader inside the events that unfolded. 

The story paints an uncomfortable truth: just ten days after the French President called for some foreign-born residents to be stripped of their citizenship—immigrants were rescuing children.

Screenshots from BBC feature story on the rescue of migrant children

6 WaterAid 

Another feature story focusing on climate change, WaterAid tells the story of people facing harsh environmental conditions in Malawi, Africa. 

The story digs deep—using full-screen photographs, statistics, and quotes from climate change scientists about the changing environment for the people living there. WaterAid is using this piece to encourage people to fight climate change. So, it's fitting that the piece ends with a simple ask: Join #OurClimateFight . 

Screenshots from Water Aid feature story on climate change

7 Sky News 

The final feature story on our list is Sky News' celebration of WNBA's 25th season. 

The story, From ‘We Got Next’ to ‘Next Steps' , has a tonne of embedded items to keep the reader interested. Sky News uses a mix of embedded Tweets, photographs, and videos to showcase WNBA's history from those who have been part of it.

And like the Water Aid feature story, Sky News wraps its piece up by adding a call-to-action, encouraging readers to follow the WNBA's progress on its YouTube and cable television channels.

Screenshots from Sky News feature story on the WNBA at 25

Ready to start creating your own amazing feature stories?

write a feature story about your family

Content creators and news agencies have stepped up their storytelling game and are going above and beyond to capture (and keep) their audience's attention. 

Slapping a 3000-word story into WordPress isn't enough to keep your reader engaged anymore (no matter how interesting the topic is.) Thanks to the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter, users now expect feature stories to be more engaging and capture their imagination. 

The good news is that creating these stories no longer means you have to learn how to code or hire an (expensive) developer. Content creators can build exciting, in-depth feature stories that embed elements like images, data illustrations, videos, and social media feeds using a tool like Shorthand. 

So, what are you waiting for—are you ready to start creating stories that will take your readers on a journey?

Kimberlee Meier  is a B2B/SaaS Content Writer who also helps start-ups fuel their growth through quality, evergreen content.

Publish your first story free with Shorthand

Craft sumptuous content at speed. No code required.

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  • Family Life

How to Write About Your Family

Last Updated: March 18, 2024 References

This article was co-authored by Alexander Peterman, MA . Alexander Peterman is a Private Tutor in Florida. He received his MA in Education from the University of Florida in 2017. This article has been viewed 91,280 times.

Writing about your family can be a daunting task, especially if you are worried about getting your family’s story just right. You may be writing about your family history for a class or for personal reasons. Or you may decide to write about your family and create a personal memoir for publication. You may be writing about your family to practice your English. No matter the method, writing about your family can be a rewarding venture when done right.

Writing a Family History

A sample of a family tree.

  • There are also several online tools you can use to build a family tree. You may then print out the family tree and use it as a guide when writing about your family.

Step 2 Let your family know you are writing about them.

  • For example, you may say to your family, “I want to write about our family because I think we have a valuable story to share with others, a story about perseverance, sacrifice, and joy. I feel like a story like ours is not represented properly right now and I want to try to do it justice.”

Step 3 Ask your family members if you can interview them.

  • Make a point of talking to the older generation in your family, such as grandparents, great aunts, or old family friends. Often, the older generation will have more information on your family history.
  • You may need to interview your family members several times. At first, they might not know what parts of their past are important for your work. Over time, they will get a better sense of what kind of information you're looking for.

Step 4 Look up information about your family in the public records.

  • If you are not sure how to search for your family in the public records, you may ask a reference librarian at your local library for guidance. You may also be able to speak to a representative at the city records office for advice on how to search for information.

Step 5 Create character profiles based on your family members.

  • For example, you may write a character profile for your father by writing, “60 year old Chinese-American man who came to America in the 1920s with his mother. Has a fascination with Chinese culture. Tends to speak up only when spoken to.”
  • Keep in mind that you can share your impressions of your family members when you write about them. Make sure you clarify that you are writing from your perspective and try not to embellish any aspects of your family. You are writing non fiction, after all, not fiction.

Step 6 Identify a conflict or theme in your family history.

  • For example, you may realize that you have always wondered why your father is so estranged from his family and why your grandmother left China in the first place to come to America. You may then use this question to structure and organize your story. You may also research your family with this question in mind.

Step 7 Compile the family history.

  • You may also have several major conflicts throughout the story, such as the time your grandmother ran off to marry your grandfather, or the moment your great-grandmother stepped on the boat to America. Use these conflicts and successes to propel the story forward and make the story engaging.

Step 8 Revise the draft.

  • Keep in mind your family members may have more edits or opinions on the draft than others. Try to accommodate their feedback, as you are writing their family history too. But you should also be willing to argue against their feedback if you think it will be detrimental to the overall story or not in keeping with the facts of the family history.

Writing a Personal Memoir

Step 1 Do research on your family.

  • As you do your research, you should talk to your family about your plans to write a memoir. Let them know that you are researching your family for a book. Discussing the book with them will make the memoir more compelling and give you more information to work with.
  • Keep in mind your family may not all be thrilled at the idea of the memoir at first, especially if they are nervous or worried about certain family details coming to light. Be tactful and patient with your family. Explain to them that you are writing a memoir from your perspective and that there is never one side to any story. Assure them that you'll let them read the final draft before you share it with anyone else.

Step 2 Read examples of personal memoir.

  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
  • Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
  • Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Step 3 Focus on an issue you feel is important in your family.

  • For example, perhaps you notice the theme of assimilation keeps coming up in your research of your family. Or maybe there is the common issue of the women in your family overcoming obstacles to raise their children in America.

Step 4 Make a plot outline

  • A plot diagram contains five parts: the exposition, the inciting incident, the rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution.
  • You can also try using the snowflake method, where you write a one sentence summary of the story, followed by a one paragraph summary, character synopses, and a spreadsheet of scenes.

Step 5 Write about a family memory or experience from your perspective.

  • If you are writing about a memory or experience that is difficult to confront, such as a memory of abuse or neglect from a family member, you may need to write several drafts of the memory. Take your time and try to focus on sensory details in the memory. Be honest about how you feel about the memory on the page and don't be afraid to dig deep.

Step 6 Revise your first draft.

  • You should ask yourself several questions as you revise, including: Do the characters in the story feel like fair representations of my real family? What's the conflict or theme of the story? Is it conveyed in a meaningful way? Do I need to include more reflections on my family from my perspective?

Step 7 Get feedback on the draft from family and colleagues.

  • Depending on what you write, some of your family members may be upset or unsettled by your story. This may occur if you are writing about a family secret or a difficult period in your family’s history. You should be prepare to defend or explain the choices you made in your story to your family members.
  • You may also get feedback on the draft from close family friends or colleagues that you are close to. If you are looking for professional guidance on your draft, you may enroll in a writing workshop that focuses on non fiction and memoir writing. You may then get valuable feedback on your draft from other writers who are also exploring their family history.
  • You may be able to find non fiction writing groups online or at your local college or university. If you have friends or colleagues who have experience writing memoir, you may approach them and ask if they’d be willing to start a writing group.

Writing About Your Family to Practice English

Step 1 Use a writing prompt.

  • For example, you may use a prompt like: “Think about your favorite family memory. Why is it your favorite? How did your family members make that moment special?”
  • As part of the prompt, you could pretend you are talking to someone you just met who asked you to tell them about your family.

Step 2 Create a first draft.

  • For example, you may write: “Let me tell you about my family. I have a mother, a father, two brothers, and one sister. We also have a dog named Pepper. We all live together in a house in Reno, Nevada. We have lived in the house since I was born. After they were married, my mother and my father moved to the house to start a family.”

Step 3 Show the draft to others and revise it.

  • You may end up adding in more details into the draft based on your teacher’s feedback. By the end of the revision process, you should have a strong, completed draft that showcases your English skills.

Community Q&A

Tom De Backer

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  • ↑ https://thewritepractice.com/tell-stories-and-keep-families/
  • ↑ https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Writing_Your_Family_and_Personal_History
  • ↑ https://www.writerswrite.com/journal/jul02/writing-a-non-boring-family-history-7024
  • ↑ https://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/74_sharon.html
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-nonfiction/3-rules-on-writing-about-your-family
  • ↑ https://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/skills/writing/a1-writing/about-my-family

About This Article

Alexander Peterman, MA

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Every family has stories to tell. Here's how to document them

Sylvie Douglis

Simran Sethi

write a feature story about your family

Photographs of Kim Hawley and her father Jim Scherman. Hawley is the founder of Strength Through Story, an organization that helps birthing parents manage perinatal challenges through writing. Despite encouraging others to share their stories, Hawley hadn't done the same excavating within her family until interviewing her father for Life Kit. Photographs by Ralph Scherman, Jana Marie Photography and Matt Hawley; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

Photographs of Kim Hawley and her father Jim Scherman. Hawley is the founder of Strength Through Story, an organization that helps birthing parents manage perinatal challenges through writing. Despite encouraging others to share their stories, Hawley hadn't done the same excavating within her family until interviewing her father for Life Kit.

History, to paraphrase author and activist James Baldwin, lives within us. We are vessels for narratives derived from our collective culture, ancestors and lived experiences. And that's why it's so important to capture them. Learning the stories of those closest to us not only enables us to better understand the trajectory of their lives but also helps us make sense of our own.

Kim Hawley, the founder of Strength Through Story , learned this when she interviewed her father, Jim Scherman. The conversation started off as what she describes as a "fairly normal" exchange. But as it deepened, her father revealed he had experienced mental health challenges following the birth of Kim's older brother. "I couldn't believe it. He told me he may have had postpartum anxiety and explained that was why he had been [briefly] hospitalized."

Explore Life Kit

This story comes from Life Kit , NPR's podcast to help make life better — covering everything from exercise to raising kids to making friends. For more, sign up for the newsletter and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter .

Until that moment, she had not known that the counsel her dad had given her during her own postpartum depression was the direct result of what he had learned in the psych unit during his hospitalization. "It was," she says, "a full circle moment."

Not every family story is this cathartic, but what each anecdote holds is the potential to forge greater appreciation for and understanding of the people we love. Here's how to document your family's stories.

Begin with a brainstorm

write a feature story about your family

Kim Hawley's family at her baptism in 1990. Before you start documenting, think about what you want to accomplish — what period of time or story do you want to learn about — and who you want to tell the story? Photograph by Ralph Scherman; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

Start by taking time to reflect on what you want to accomplish in the conversation, suggests Yowei Shaw , host and producer of NPR's Invisibilia . Are you trying to document an event or find clarity on something that's a bit of a family mystery? "Make a list," Shaw says. "And then pick the one that you're most excited to do."

Once you figure out a specific angle for your story, it's time to find the best storyteller. Who in your family is the keeper of great stories about grandma — or can fill in details about the embarrassing toast your dad made at your sister's wedding? That's the person you want to speak with.

Tackle research and logistics

The prep work you do beforehand will make your interview even stronger. This might include research on the internet or in personal archives, or background conversations with people who you may not interview but who are familiar with subjects you want to explore. Gather that information, and then draw up a list of questions to reference in your interview.

How to carry on a family recipe, in your own way

How to carry on a family recipe, in your own way

When it comes to choosing a recording device, NPR archivist Nicolette Khan says simplicity is key. "You could get really hung up on creating a perfect recording or preserving it in the perfect way, but as long as it's something that you can save, keep and share, whatever tools you have are the best tools to use."

The pre-installed recording app on your smartphone is a great option. Find a quiet space where you won't be disturbed, position the phone between you and the person you're going to interview (with the microphone pointed toward you both), and plan on a conversation that is at least 30 minutes long, so you have time to get comfortable and properly explore the topic you've chosen.

Commit to the conversation

write a feature story about your family

Kim Hawley and her father Jim Scherman nap on the couch in 1993. It can be helpful to start your interview with a warm-up question, such as sharing a favorite memory from childhood. Photograph by Gee Scherman; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

Kim Hawley and her father Jim Scherman nap on the couch in 1993. It can be helpful to start your interview with a warm-up question, such as sharing a favorite memory from childhood.

We don't usually interact with loved ones through interviews, so the format can feel awkward. The best way to break through the tension is to start with a few warm-ups — basic fact-gathering questions such as a favorite memory from childhood — and continue with open-ended versus yes or no questions ("How was X?" or "What did Y mean to you?").

"We tend to tell the same stories over and over," Khan explains. "Digging a little deeper or asking more about what someone was sensing or feeling can bring out new memories." If your family member takes you down a rabbit hole that wasn't on your list of questions, follow it and see where it goes. You can always move questions around, take them out or circle back to them later.

Finally, take time to document sounds that add to your inquiry or simply bring joy. Your nephew's laughter or your dog's barks — press "record" on whatever makes up the soundtrack of your life.

Approach sensitive topics with care

The goal of your interview is connection, not interrogation. Give your interview subject advance notice if you're planning on broaching topics that might be uncomfortable, and let them know they can opt out of those questions if desired. If they are still open to exploration, go slow, and give them the time and space they need to open up. This includes allowing for something many of us dread: awkward pauses.

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Although it isn't easy to stay quiet in moments of silence, it's worth it, Shaw says. "Something electric is happening. They are turning something over in their head, having an emotional reaction, or might be trying to access a memory they haven't thought about in decades. Don't step on the silence. That's where magic can happen."

Seize the opportunity

write a feature story about your family

Kim Hawley with her father Jim Scherman in 2021. Your questions and recordings do not have to be perfect. What is most important is documenting these stories while you can. Rebecca Harlan/Photograph by Kim Hawley; Collage by Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

Kim Hawley with her father Jim Scherman in 2021. Your questions and recordings do not have to be perfect. What is most important is documenting these stories while you can.

The pandemic has been a sober reminder that time is precious. Your questions and recordings do not have to be perfect. What's most important is to remember the histories that we carry, and prioritize capturing them while we still can. Shaw had wanted to record her grandfather's story but by the time she started asking him questions, his dementia had clouded over the answers. "I was too late," she says. Take advantage of the time you have now, so you don't have regrets later.

If this story inspires you to document a family story, we'd love to hear about it. Send us a note about the experience at [email protected].

The podcast portion of this story was produced by Sylvie Douglis.

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Memoir: How to Write About Family

Writing a memoir is one of the best gifts you can give to your family, especially future generations. Think about it: How much do you really know about your grandmother? What about her grandmother— Do you even know the name of your grandmother's grandmother? If we're lucky, we'll know the basic outline of our ancestry but very few of us know the rich stories that make up the lives of our family members.

If you've ever been curious about your family's past, think of the future generations who also will be interested in their lives and yours, too. Knowing the paths of our ancestors helps us better navigate our own.

Writing a memoir isn't just a gift for posterity. It's also a gift for you presently. In the process of chronicling your family history or your own personal triumphs, you can discover recurring themes and universal truths that can guide the rest of your life.

But how do you do it? Where do you begin writing a memoir about your family? How do you make the mostly uneventful lives of your family members interesting? How do you catalog random events into one book? How do you tell the truth and not get sued?

In this guide, we'll answer all of those questions and more. Let's get started.

Here’s a list of 10 legal tips to remember when writing a memoir. Subscribe to receive this extra resource.

Download your bonus content:

Memoir About Your Family

When you're deciding who or what to chronicle in your memoir, remember this little fact: A memoir is not an entire autobiography. It captures one moment of your life. It may cover the span of several weeks, months, or years, but the totality of your life is so much bigger than what you can record in a single memoir.

Find a specific theme that you'd like to tackle in your memoir, such as the benefit of hard work or the trials and triumphs of parenthood.

Then find a moral to your memoir (that's right— morals aren't just for fables). Your memoir should also reflect a life lesson or universal truth that you or your family member discovered over the course of the events.

When trying to figure out where to begin with a family memoir, focus on a lesson that you've learned from your family. Who taught you that lesson? How did he or she learn that lesson? What's the story there? After exploring their story, then show how you applied that same lesson in your own life.

One of the hardest parts of telling your own story is being vulnerable. If you're accustomed to writing fiction, you know it's pretty easy to deposit different elements of your personality or your own history into the fictionalized story. Change a few details here and there, and no one will know that the protagonist in your sci-fi romance novel is based on you.

But in a memoir, everyone knows that your story is your story. It can be excruciating to look at yourself in black and white without flinching. There will be moments where you'll have to stop yourself from pushing the delete button. You'll definitely cringe. You'll want to justify your actions or soften the blow. But that doesn't make for honest storytelling, which is the only type of story your memoir reader wants to explore.

It can also be difficult to tell the truth when you're including the acts and deeds of others that you know, especially close family members. You may wish to shield them from criticism.

But don’t. Be honest with the most important (non-identifying) details and you’ll have a superior story.

How to Make the Boring Exciting

When I relay certain events about my life to others, I often get this response: Your life is so exciting. I could never write a story about my own life— it's so boring.

Here's the truth: My life is boring, too. Approximately 99 percent of my life is spent doing the same thing day in and day out. I don't write about that 99 percent, I focus on the 1 percent, and you should, too.

No one's life is exciting 100 percent of the time, but every one of us has a compelling story to tell. I've never met one person that I couldn't find an interesting story about, and you're not going to stump me.

With a memoir, you don't have to catalog every single day, week, or even year. You can skip over the boring parts to get to create a story that makes sense for your theme and moral.

Remember to Write Whole Characters

When we're looking at family members, we have a tendency to only see one part of them. You may know Rosalee as your grandma but you don't know her as the young woman who had an affair on her husband and ended up pregnant with another man's baby. If you limit your characterization to wise Grandma Rosalee, you won't have an accurate portrayal of young, naive Rosalee.

If you're going to tell an honest story, you must see and write Rosalee as a whole person— with faults— and not in the limited capacity of grandma.

What Happens if Your Family Threatens to Sue?

Memoir About Your Family

Are you afraid to write a memoir that involves family members because it may expose you to future litigation?

This idea stops a lot of would-be memoirists from sharing poignant stories.

If you've ever been threatened by a hotheaded family member who claims that you're defaming their character, remember that truth is always the best defense to defamation. If it's true, it's not defamation (which is hurting someone's reputation with a false statement of fact).

This is why it's so important to be completely honest in your memoirs, especially if you're bringing in the acts and deeds of others into your story.

You may also have to defend yourself against claims that you've invaded the privacy of your family members. If you're sharing sensitive information about family members that they don't want to become public, you can't use truth as a defense. In this case, and to avoid triggering certain family members altogether, it's best to explore one of the following options:

  • You can write under an assumed name or pseudonym. This is the go-to option for those of us who want to tell our personal truths with exposing actual people in the process.
  • Alter key details. Turn a brother into a cousin. Move from Poughkeepsie to Aurora. Transform a brunette into blonde. You can make changes to your memoir and throw sleuths off of the scent. But remember that switching out certain details can negatively affect your story and dilute your theme. Keep the changes superficial so as not to expose the secrets of your family members.
  • Talk to a lawyer. They know more about the law than you or I do (unless you're actually a lawyer). It makes sense to consult with a lawyer before publishing a book with real names that can expose your family members to real embarrassment or potential legal issues.

Remember to treat your family members as you would like to be treated. Put yourself in their place. Give them the same dignity and respect that you want for yourself.

Hold on to Your Perspective

Others in your family will not remember events in the same way that you do. This can create tension. Be prepared.

You should tell the truth as you see it. Write the first draft without allowing self-doubt to have a voice. After your first draft is out of the way, start to edit with this caveat: You're writing from your perspective— not the perspective of your other family members. You don't have to alter your memories or storytelling to accommodate your mother's, brother's, aunt's, grandpa's feelings.

In fact, many authors don't ever share their memoirs with their family for obvious reasons. You're not obligated to do so and you may feel better if you don't. Just make sure that you're okay with what you've written and that it lines up to the truth as you see it.

Avoid Asking Your Family to Read Your Work

If you do share your memoir with your family, don't ask them to help you edit it.

Generally speaking, family members make poor editors. When you ask a family member to critique your work, it usually goes one of two ways:

1) They tell you what they think you want to hear because they don't want to hurt your feelings and they want to be supportive.

2) They have a negative emotional response and may tell you that your memoir is horrible simply because they're too close to the events in your story.

In the case of a memoir, it's almost impossible to get an objective reaction from your family members. If your perspective doesn't line up with their perspective, they'll think you're telling the story wrong and they'll judge you and your writing unfairly as a result.

You can't afford to have that happen.

Instead, get a professional editor to look over your work via a manuscript critique. This kind of critique focuses on the story as a whole, including plot structure, narrative voice, characterization, and pacing. This type of objective critique will help you clarify the theme and tell the best story possible. It can also safeguard against creating flat characters that don't honestly represent your family members.

Learn more about our manuscript critique services here.

Additional Resources

Before you go, check out these related posts on writing memoirs:

  • Writing a Memoir? Avoid These 7 Mistakes
  • How to Write a Memoir That People Care About

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About my family.

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Look at the email and do the exercises to practise and improve your writing skills.

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From: [email protected]

To: [email protected]

Subject: My family

Let me tell you about my family. I live with my mum, my dad and my big sister. We live in California. My mum’s name is Carmen. She’s Mexican and she speaks English and Spanish. She’s a Spanish teacher. She’s short and slim, she’s got long, brown hair and brown eyes. My dad’s name is David. He’s American. He’s tall and a little fat! He’s got short brown hair and blue eyes. He works in a bank. My sister Shania is 14 and she loves listening to music. She listens to music all the time! She’s got long brown hair and green eyes, like me. I’ve got long hair too. We’ve got a pet dog, Brandy. He’s black and white and very friendly.

Write soon and tell me about your family.

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  • 19 Writing Family Stories

Writing Family Stories

Start-Up Activity

Ask your students, "What stories do your family members tell? What is your favorite story about your family?" Have volunteers briefly tell their family stories.

Point out that family stories are fun to tell and to listen to. They help us share our lives together. Let your students know they will be writing about their favorite family stories.

Think About It

“Unless we tell stories about ourselves, which is all that theater is, we're in deep trouble.”

—Alan Rickman

State Standards Covered in This Chapter

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.1
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.2
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.3
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.B
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.A
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.C
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.3.D
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.4
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.5

LAFS Covered in This Chapter

Lafs.3.rl.1.1, lafs.3.rl.1.2, lafs.3.rl.1.3, lafs.3.w.1.3, lafs.3.w.2.4, lafs.3.w.2.5, teks covered in this chapter, 110.5.b.6.b, 110.5.b.9.a, 110.5.b.8.b, 110.5.b.12.a, 110.5.b.11.b.ii, 110.5.b.11.b.i, 110.5.b.11.a, 110.5.b.11.c, 110.5.b.11.d, page 91 from write on track, sample family stories.

Read aloud the two family stories on this page. Point out how both stories have common ingredients:

Let students know that their own family stories should include ingredients like these.

You can also share with students this higher-level family story, which is sweet and sad: " Grandpa, Chaz, and Me ."

Related Resource Tags

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Page 92 from Write on Track

Writing a family story.

Have students read the eight subject areas under "Read and Remember" and think of family stories that relate to one of the areas. Have them choose their stories and list details, such as the people, place, actions, and dialogue.

When students are ready to start writing, lead them through the tips for creating a beginning and putting details in order.

Writing a Family Story and Historical Marker

Inspire students to write family stories.

Kascinski's World Famous Hot Dog Stand Plaque

Page 93 from Write on Track

Revising and editing.

Lead students through the three suggestions for reviewing their first drafts. Then have them pair up with peer readers, who can help them figure out ways to improve their family stories.

Once students finish revising their revisions, have them check for errors in capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Then have them create neat final copies of their stories.

Use the "Tip" to encourage them to include a picture before they share their stories with classmates.

  • 01 Understanding Writing
  • 02 One Writer's Process
  • 03 Qualities of Writing
  • 04 Selecting a Topic
  • 05 Collecting Details
  • 06 Writing a First Draft
  • 07 Revising and Editing
  • 08 Publishing Your Writing
  • 09 Writing Basic Sentences
  • 10 Combining Sentences
  • 11 Writing Paragraphs
  • 12 Understanding Text Structures
  • 13 Writing in Journals and Logs
  • 14 Writing Lists
  • 15 Making Albums
  • 16 Writing Notes and Emails
  • 17 Writing Friendly Letters
  • 18 Writing Personal Narratives
  • 20 Writing Realistic Stories
  • 21 Writing Time-Travel Fantasies
  • 22 Writing Tall Tales
  • 23 Writing Alphabet Books
  • 24 How-To Writing
  • 25 Writing Information Essays
  • 26 Writing Newspaper Stories
  • 27 Writing Persuasive Essays
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  • 30 Making Bookmarks
  • 31 Writing Classroom Reports
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  • 35 Traditional and Playful Poetry
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  • 50 Learning to Interview
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  • 52 Using Graphic Organizers
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  • 55 Completing Assignments
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  • 58 Proofreader's Guide
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Choosing the Right Format When Writing Your Family History

Home » Blog » Choosing the Right Format When Writing Your Family History

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT FORMAT WHEN WRITING YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

You’ve dreamed of writing a family history book for years. In fact, you’ve even started wading through old documents, photos, and records.

But after countless hours of research, you’re stuck.

What do you do with all of the materials you’ve gathered? What’s the best way to present your family’s history? What kind of a story do you want to tell — and how do you want to tell it?

Where do you even start?

The great thing about family history projects is that the options are almost limitless.

Want to keep things simple? You can stick to a just-the-facts family tree.

Want a sweeping epic that spans generations? Consider writing a novel-length family biography that weaves your ancestors’ stories together with important historical events.

Not a huge fan of writing? You can tell your family’s story through a collection of letters, journals, photographs, and other documents.

Of course, the drawback to all of these choices is choosing the right one for your family and your goals for the project.

Not sure which option is right for you? Join us for a deep dive into some of our favorite options — along with the pros and cons of each one.

Traditional Genealogy

Traditional styles are, by far, is the most straightforward way to organize your family history. The traditional, basic format shows how each person in your lineage is connected.

Considering this approach? Try one of these options:

Family Tree Style.

This style offers the bare facts of your ancestors, including names, birth and death dates, and how they relate to each other within the family line.

Family tree diagrams are great for illustrating smaller family relations, but can easily become quite cumbersome for larger families.

write a feature story about your family

Ahnentafel Style.

Also known as a 'pedigree chart,' this option is similar to -- but more complex than -- a family tree and is a popular choice for historian archivists.

These charts can vary in layout, but they are always organized with the information starting in the present and moving backward into the past along the direct lineage. The information is organized based on a specific numbering and charting system that tracks family units or groups.

write a feature story about your family

Register Style.

Another popular option with historic archivists and professional genealogists. Also known as the “Descendancy,” this style is the opposite of the Ahnentafel as it works from the past into the present from a common ancestor. Like the Anhentafel, though, this option uses a numbering system to organize people into families. However, registers also feature a very basic paragraph about each person that includes: the place of birth/baptism and birth/baptism date(s); place of death/burial and death/burial date(s); and place of marriage and marriage date.

Why go traditional?

All three styles of traditional genealogy are a great way to organize your research and data while compiling your family history.

And, since these options are focused on names, dates, and places, they’re great options if you’re not interested in doing a lot of writing.

They are also perfect for the genealogist and anyone else who wants to organize their information before starting a more writing-intensive option.

Drawbacks to consider:

While these formats make it easy to organize the data in a logical way, they’re not very exciting.

The end result is a dry, bare-bones list of names and dates, with no in-depth details about your family’s rich history.

Journaled Scrapbook

Also known as a “heritage scrapbook,” this style of family history includes names and dates, but it keeps things interesting with the addition of photos, notes, stories, documents, letters, journal entries, newspaper clippings, and anything else you can think of.

You can use a scanner and simple layout software to create your scrapbook digitally. This gives you the option to print multiple copies for several members of your family.

Or you can keep things old-school and create a one-of-a kind, paper-crafted scrapbook that that is placed within a binder.

Why this is a great option:

With the journaled scrapbook format, you can use a lot more of the documents and old photos you found in your research instead of letting them sit in a box.

Photos help give a rich element to your family history. You can even embellish them in a creative way with written narratives and any other documents you like.

Things to consider:

Printing can increase the overall cost of your project — especially if you’re using lots of photos and other graphics.

On the other hand, if you choose to do a paper-crafted scrapbook, you can save money — but you’ll be limited to only one copy to share with your family.

Theme-Based Family History

A theme-based family history is a great way to capture that interest while also chronicling the people along your lineage.

Did your family love to cook? Write a book of recipes shared across the generations, along with the stories about where the recipes came from and other interesting details.

write a feature story about your family

Were there a lot of military men and women in your family? Write about their bravery and experiences during their service, and how that affected the family line.

Maybe there were plenty of “black sheep,” adventurers, or renegades in your family line. Base your family history around their colorful experiences.

Really, there is no shortage of ideas on topics you could use to present your family histories.

Why choose a theme-based option:

There are lots of topics you can choose from within your family history to write about.

Whether visual or narrative in form, it is a great way to present a special family theme that can be shared with all your relatives. You can mix photos, documents, and narratives along with items like recipes, letters, etc.

What to know before you start:

Just like with a journaled scrapbook, theme-based history books often include lots of photos, notes, and other documents, which means it can be costly to print.

Creating a book with a special theme or narrow scope also means leaving out many other aspects and stories — or even people — that don’t fit within the book’s focus.

Family Biography

write a feature story about your family

A family biography is a narrative story of a whole family’s history, and it can provide a look at a direct family line/surname or a broader view of several directly connected lines.

This format is a lot like a novel.

You write a narrative about your ancestors using notes, memories, and a bit of creative license here and there.

Your family’s narrative is set against a historical backdrop and often includes information about historical events, politics, economic conditions, and other historical circumstances that influenced your descendants.

Why a biography?

This format gives you the ability to use all the facts you collected in a more compelling way while bringing your family’s history alive.

You can get in-depth and provide meaning and context. You can also tell some amazing stories without worrying if they’ll “fit” within a specific space or theme.

Drawbacks of a biography-style book:

This option works best if you have plentiful resources to draw upon, such as old letters and journals actually written by family members you are writing about.

Without that firsthand perspective, it’s all too easy to make assumptions about your ancestors’ actions, beliefs, and decisions.

Anthology-Style History

This format an anthology, which is a collection of stories typically written to fit into a certain subject or theme.

To use this format you would select which family members’ stories you want to highlight and write each one separately.

Each family member’s story would be a chapter or section in our book, and each story would work together in some way to illustrate a certain theme, idea, time period, or even a memory.

Again, there is no shortage of ideas for compiling an anthology-style family history. You could write stories about all the women or all the men in one direct line.

Or you could even transcribe family members’ memories or interpretations of a certain important family event.

The benefits of an anthology:

This format can include more in-depth information into each individual, creating a more complete portrait of each family member you write about.

You can also ask family members to write their own stories and send them to you, which means less writing work for you — and more colorful and varied stories for readers.

The challenges of an anthology-style approach:

While it is said everyone has a story to tell, not every family member’s story will be equally compelling.

You’ll need to make sure that you have enough stories to make an interesting book, and you should be willing to scale the project up or down as needed.

For example, you might find that, out of ten women in your family, only six have stories that would be interesting to others.

And if you are having other family members write their own stories, you may find they don’t write well and may get narrative back that needs to be rewritten.

CAPTURE THEIR VOICES, TODAY

Preserve your family history

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Event Histories

Another interesting way to write your family’s history is by capturing certain events and writing about how they affected your ancestors.

Going from past to present, taking a large, or even smaller, historical event that your ancestors experienced can be an interesting way of presenting the facts of both the event and your family and show how it shaped the family line.

Examples: Did you have groups of ancestors who documented their experiences during the Civil War?

Maybe you have a relative who was alive during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake?

Or maybe you’d like to focus on a direct ancestor’s arrival in America and how that changed his life and future of the family.

The pros of taking a historical approach: Writing about your ancestors in a historical context can bring out stories you may never have thought of before.

And learning how certain events influenced them or pushed them to do certain things and see life in a certain way can add a great richness to your family history.

A few cons to consider: Certain events — such as war, natural disasters, and the like — can be difficult or even depressing to write about, and you may even hear a few stories that you wish you hadn’t.

This isn’t to say that every story in your family history has to have a happy ending — but it’s best to be prepared to hear some less-than-positive details.

A memoir is a historical account written from one’s own personal experience.

To write a memoir about your family history, you, the writer, would write an account of your family history and the members of your family.

You could also consider writing about an important event as it relates to your family from your own memories, interpretations, experiences, and your conducted research.

While some people choose to interview family members for their perspectives when writing a memoir, most memoirs are written solely from the perspective of the author.

Depending on your age and your memory recall, the time span of your family’s history would be closer to the present and be more subjective in nature than complete fact.

Example: The Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This format offers you flexibility and creativity to blend family facts with your own memories and personal interpretation. If you enjoy writing, you’ll likely find that this is one of the most interesting and compelling ways to highlight your family’s history through your own personal lens.

The (potentially) not-so-good:

One of the biggest problems with this sort of family history is the subjective nature of the writing.

It is typically based mostly on your own interpretation and assumptions with no room for other family member’s input. You may find that you are too personally entwined with the events, which it can cloud your memory and hinder your ability to write objectively.

Living Memory

Instead of relying solely on YOUR memory, you can collect all the memories you can from living relatives and combine them with surviving historical documents to produce a single narrative, anthology, or scrapbook.

Examples:  To help get you started capturing the memories of your family members, consider these resources: Your Story: A Guided Interview Through Your Personal & Family History  by Gift to the Future2000 Inc (Author), Inc Staff Gift To The Future 200 (Author) ; The Story of a Lifetime: A Keepsake of Personal Memoirs by Pamela Pavuk  (Author), J. Richard Huxen (Author) ; To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come by Bob Greene (Author), D. G. Fulford (Author)

What’s great about this option:

By including stories from multiple family members, you’re sure to get a wide variety of viewpoints, ideas, and stories to include in your book.

Your relatives will feel more included and this format really makes the book a true family story.

What ‘s challenging about it:

People often remember things differently — and with so many different voices and viewpoints, you might get conflicting memories to the same stories.

You may also get stories that don’t work cohesively together (this is why it might be helpful to provide family members with pre-written questions or to interview them in groups).

Vintage Photos

Of course, if you love the idea of putting together a family history — but feel apprehensive about the amount of research or writing required for your preferred format – a ghostwriter can help. Bringing in an outside resource can help you stay organized, keep your project on track, and help you fine-tune your writing.

Whether you choose a handmade scrapbook, an anthology of personal narratives, or a short-and-sweet family tree, you’ll find that this project will be rewarding for everyone involved. And you’ll likely learn a thing or two about your family along the way.

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6 thoughts on “ Choosing the Right Format When Writing Your Family History ”

I want see about my last name for corff family tree please thank you

Hi Catherine! We’d love to help you with your family tree project! Please feel free to contact us through our website ( https://www.thewritersforhire.com/contact/ )or by calling us at 713-465-6860.

I would like to write a book about one branch of my family from when they arrived in America to current living family members. I have photos, documents, letters, many stories about certain members, much research about their occupations in some case. I have also researched inventions of the times that changed their standard of living. I can easily add current events of their time. What format is best to use in your opinion?

It sounds like you have put a lot of work into your family history! If you have a lot of images and documents that you want to include, you may want to consider a journaled scrapbook. However, if your content is more heavily story-based, we’d recommend going the biography or anthology route.

Good luck! And please let us know if we can help you with your book.

The payoff for all this detective work is nothing less than time traveling through your family history. You will get to know your ancestors in a more intimate and meaningful way.

We couldn’t agree more!

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write a feature story about your family

The Non-Writers Writing Guide to Write Your Family History

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  • ancestral stories , family history , family stories , preserving discoveries , story crafting , storytelling

write a feature story about your family

I’ve heard from many of you that you don’t write your family history because you either don’t feel confident with your writing skills or aren’t sure how to start.

You aren’t alone. Many other family historians have felt the same way, including me. 

Genealogy documentaries have set a bar high for storytelling. They explore rich, exciting histories and tell them in the perfect setting. How can you compete with that?

And that old saying about “everyone has a book inside them”? Pffft. You aren’t sure you have enough to fill a Christmas card. 

A few years ago, I decided to put together a “This is your life” heritage book for my mother. Knowing that writing wasn’t my strong suit, I had multiple contributors lined up to share their stories. This book was going to practically write itself.

Four weeks before B-Day, most of the people who agreed to write something pulled out. I had no stories, and I’d never written anything longer than a multiple page letter. I wasn’t up for the task. However, I promised my siblings we’d have a book for Mum’s birthday, so we were going to have a book.

The next few weeks weren’t pretty, but we handed Mum a 188-page hardcover book in a custom slipcase on her birthday.

The hardest part is starting. I probably never would have if I hadn’t made a promise to deliver a book to Mum.

You can do it too. Even if you:

  • think you’re not creative
  • haven’t written more than a Christmas card in years
  • don’t consider yourself a writer.

Techniques to use to write your family history

As a non-writer full of self-doubt, I tried every shortcut I read about it, even those AI writing sites. None worked. Why? Because the story comes from you. 

It’s the knowledge you’ve gained from years of research, the theories you’ve developed and the insight you have after hours of analysis that creates the story. U nfortunately, there is no AI writing app or “fill-in-the-blanks” template that can do that for you.

However, there are different techniques you can use to share what you’ve discovered and create a book, a blog or a binder of stories for your descendants to enjoy.

The first step is to reframe what you tell yourself to take the pressure off. Don’t aim to be a writer, instead consider yourself a storyteller. As a storyteller, you don’t need to be a writer; you’re just documenting what you’ve discovered to share with others.

The next step is to experiment with these three options to write your family stories.

Commit to trying at least one but preferably all of them. You don’t have to show your work to anyone until you are ready. The best way to gain confidence in a skill is to practice.

1. Say it out loud

Skip the writing step and tell yourself the story while using a voice-to-text app to record it.

You want to feel comfortable while talking and for the story to come out naturally. So, if it feels a bit weird talking to yourself, then tell the account to a relative, pet or even your favourite plant. The critical part is that you use your computer or phone to record and convert each word to text as you say it.

Voice-to-text software isn’t perfect, so expect to see some errors in the draft that is created. Mistakes usually happen when the AI misinterprets what you’ve said, mainly when talking too fast, using slang or local colloquialisms. So rather than fixing the issues on the go, finish the draft and correct any errors in editing.

Be sure to speak slowly and clearly so that the microphone picks up your voice, and the AI can interpret and convert each word as you say it.

You don’t need any fancy apps or software to get started. Instead, try any note-taking app on your phone, hit the microphone icon near the space bar, and start talking.

Speak the punctuation that you want to include, such as:

  • question mark
  • exclamation point.

To include quotation marks, you’ll say:

  • close quote.

For single quotes, you’ll say:

  • open single quote
  • close single quote.

To move to the following line, say either:

  • new paragraph.

Depending on the app you use, saying “new line” or the alternatives may exit you from the voice-to-text functionality. If that happens, press the microphone icon again to keep “typing”.

Use the microphone in the keyboard when using voice-to-text to write your family history

Note-taking apps for writing from your smartphone

Look for an app that saves the document in the cloud (e.g. Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive etc.) so that you can easily access it from any device or computer. Such as:

  • Microsoft Word

2. Summarize each discovery as you make it

Don’t overthink the process and build your ancestor’s story by crafting a summary of each discovery you make.

Everything you uncover represents an event that happened in your ancestors’ life, from being born, getting married, moving house or enrolling in the military. So capturing your interpretation of that event builds their story one discovery at a time.

Your ancestor’s story isn’t only repeating the facts you discovered, such as date of birth, place of marriage or their final resting place. It’s also your interpretation of the discovery and how that event connects to the other things that you know about them. That includes your thoughts, theories and questions that come up as you’re reviewing each discovery.

If you already have an analysis process for your genealogy research, re-purpose the summary you’re already writing for each discovery. 

Not summarising your discoveries? Start now. Review what you know about each ancestor and write a few paragraphs on it, using the questions below to prompt you.

  • When did this event happen?
  • Where did it take place?
  • What happened?
  • Which other ancestors were involved in the event?
  • How does this discovery answer any of the questions you have about this ancestor?
  • How does it connect to what you already know about them?
  • What was your key learning?
  • What new questions do you have after reading this discovery?
  • Does this confirm any existing theories or inspire new ones?
  • What new clues do you have to research?

Don’t overthink it; write your thoughts for each question. When you’re done, that’s a block of text towards the draft of your ancestor’s story. 

Find out more about discovery analysis and crafting summaries. 

3. convert your ancestral timeline into story format.

Your ancestral timelines are the story outline of your ancestor’s lives.

If you’re not already using timelines, this is a great time to start. Of course, your genealogy software will already be creating one as you log each discovery. But it’s also easy to create your own.

Create a timeline in Microsoft Word, Google Docs or your favourite app. Any note-taking app will work as long as you can create a hierarchy using headings, body text and bullet points.

Don’t overthink the process because that overwhelms you and stops you from writing your ancestor’s story. Keep it simple and try something like this process:

  • Add each year of your ancestor’s life
  • Underneath each year, including the date
  • After the event date, add the event’s name (for example, death of father, left school etc.)  
  • Use bullet points to summarise what happened

Don’t have any events? Include general historical events such as war, major financial or weather events instead. You can also include this type of information even if it’s a year where you have events in your ancestor’s life.

Example of creating a timeline to write your family history

Once you’ve finished with the outline, go back through each event, and convert the facts into paragraphs. Be sure to include any theories or questions this event raised for you so that your reader can go on the journey with you.

When you’re done converting each event into a few paragraphs, you’ll have a draft of your ancestor’s story.

Example of story outline

You can write your family history even if you’re not a writer

You don’t need to be Stephen King, Nora Roberts or Agatha Christie to write your family stories. Your family history is your story to tell and should be done in your voice.

Keep the process simple, and don’t overthink it, as that’s when the doubts creep in. All you need to do is tell your reader

  • what you’ve discovered
  • your theories
  • questions you have
  • how it connects to other things.
“Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller just waiting to be released.” Robin Moore, Awakening the Hidden Storyteller

Experiment with different ways of creating the first draft.

  • Use voice-to-text functionality to convert the story to text as you talk.
  • Analyse and summarise each discovery to build the draft one block at a time.
  • Convert your ancestral timelines into paragraphs to capture your ancestor’s story.

The best advice I have is to start. You don’t have to ever show those first few paragraphs to anyone. You may surprise yourself, though. Once you see the sections adding up and the story coming together, then you’ll be keen to share it with your loved one.

After all, stories are written one sentence, one word at a time.

Ready for your next step?

Ready to dive deep into my non-writers writing formula and convert your research into engaging stories? Learn more about the Ancestral Stories course . 

Discover more

write a feature story about your family

Your daily dose of inspiration

Ready to ditch distractions to craft the first draft of your family story? Check out my new Software Tips series on YouTube. This episode is unpacking 3 tips to enhance your Google Docs experience. Link in bio or visit youtube.com/@thecreativefamilyhistorian. #familystories #familyhistory

Organise your genealogy discoveries, track what you’ve found and decide where to look next.

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9 Tips for Getting Started on Writing Your Family History

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write a feature story about your family

Written by Diane Haddad, unless otherwise noted.

Once you’ve been doing genealogy research for a while, and you have a family tree or a computer hard drive or a filing cabinet with a bunch of notes and old records, you might wonder what to do with it all. Or perhaps you’ve always harbored the dream of sharing your family history, and you’re not sure how.

It’s a hard truth: Few people have much use for an unstructured assortment of documents and computer files. Even folks who are curious about their family history—and that describes most I’ve met—aren’t likely to sort through your research and rebuild the store of knowledge you’ve amassed over years.

write a feature story about your family

If your family research is to live beyond you, you’ll need to do the work of putting it into some shareable, lasting form. That usually means summarizing your finds in writing, maybe enhanced with photos and images of interesting documents. Whether you go all-out with a self-published hardback or just pass out stapled pages at the next family reunion, you’ll create a legacy—a framework others can use to understand your family’s story and the genealogical evidence you’ve gathered.

We can’t promise the project will be a breeze, but we can promise it’ll be easier when you follow these tips and use our handy organizing worksheet.

1. Know Your Purpose

Before you begin, it’s important to know what you hope to accomplish with this writing project. Do you want to summarize all your research, share your family legacy, pass down the stories Grandpa told, tell how your family fits into local history, share the story of an ancestor or family you admire, celebrate your ethnic heritage, or something else?

A strong focus makes the project more manageable, says Sunny Jane Morton, author of Story of My Life . “A small, finished project is better than a three-volume tome that exists only in your dreams.”

Need help narrowing the scope? Morton advises looking at your research for the most compelling story or interesting person. Author Sophia Wilson, who penned an 160,000-word history of her family, started her project by writing as many family stories as she could think of, then turning them into short biographies of the people involved. She wrote every day for at least 15 minutes, but sometimes for hours at a time. Taken together, those biographies served as the starting point for her project.

Alternately, you could choose a topic that commemorates an upcoming family milestone, such as your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Or you might start with whatever is most doable.

Your audience is an important aspect of your goal. For a project just family will see, you might use a casual writing style, refer to relatives with familiar titles (“Great-grandpa Thornton”), and use in-text source information. If other genealogists will read your work in a newsletter, journal or published book, you’ll want a more authoritative style with an emphasis on your research process, and formal source citations in footnotes and source lists.

Think about your audience’s age (or level of maturity), too. Wilson recalls how her research turned up stories that might not be appropriate to a younger audience. “Instead of shifting the focus of my book, I decided that children could simply read the unvarnished truth once they were mature enough,” Wilson says. “Age-appropriate stories could be extracted and adapted for a younger audience, for whom I would also write at a lower reading level.”

“I kept coming back to what I wanted the project to accomplish (preserving and sharing memories for the younger generation) and letting that guide my decisions,” she says.

2. Make a Plan

An outline gives you a framework for building your project, especially if it involves multiple people or a long time span. Make a list of elements you want to include. Don’t worry about organizing the list yet.

Here’s an example for my maternal family history opus:

  • a family tree of Mom’s family
  • information about the places the family came from with a map, including why so many immigrated from each place
  • names and immigration details of all the immigrant ancestors: Henry Seeger, Eduard Thoss, Mary Mairose, Thomas Frost, Edward Norris, Elizabeth Butler, Henry Hoernemann, Anna Maria Weyer, and so on.
  • where these families settled in the United States, their jobs and their children
  • Eduard Thoss tavern in Northern Kentucky
  • info on Cincinnati Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where so many settled
  • Dierkes boys in family cemetery plot
  • Henry Seeger’s cigar store, with photos and timeline, and two babies who died as infants
  • Thomas Frost/Mary Wolking divorce
  • Ade Thoss and the Covington Blue Sox
  • possible family connection to Windthorst, Kan.
  • death of Elizabeth Teipel Thoss and several of her children
  • Benjamin Teipel trap-shooting invention and death
  • Civil War service of Frank and Benjamin Thoss
  • firefighter Raymond Norris and Newton Tea & Spice Co. Fire
  • how Grandma and Grandpa met

Your list might cause you to rethink your project scope. For example, I’m seeing that I could divide up my project by family branches, breaking it down into smaller parts (and this is only part of my list).

When you know the topics you want to cover, arrange them in an order that makes sense to you. You could do chronological order, geographical order (group all information related to Germany, all immigration information, all second generation information), family branches one at a time, or some other arrangement. You could opt for a general overview then add several shorter profiles of specific ancestors or families.

Wilson shares how she thought about structure while planning her project:

One option would be maintaining individual biographies, organized in the book by birth year, generation or location. Or I could combine all biographies into a single narrative chronology, or even organize the stories by theme (women, farming, culture, etc.). I opted for the most straightforward and comprehensive order: chronological. With this approach, I gained a deeper understanding of how my ancestors’ lives developed over time, and how one event flowed into another.

Next, create an outline by organizing topics into sections or chapters. Read published family histories for examples. One of my favorites is Family by Ian Frazier.

3. Say It with Pictures

Pictures and graphs will engage your readers, help them follow complicated lineages and show what you’re talking about. “Plan as you go which pictures, documents, maps, charts and genealogical reports will best illustrate your narrative,” Morton advises.

Depending how many photos and documents you’ve found, you’ll want to winnow the options to those from key moments in your family history, selecting those that will reproduce well in the finished product. Consider adding transcriptions for hard-to-read or foreign-language documents.

Keep copyright in mind. If you plan to publish your work (including on a website), get permission from the copyright holder or owner of any images you didn’t create or that aren’t in your personal collection. For a quick read about understanding copyright laws, check out this article .

4. Get Organized and Utilize Apps

Now you’re ready to write. As you work, go over your records for families and people you’re writing about. Wilson developed a filing system that automatically sorted documents by individual. “I created a separate document for every event so I could easily insert new findings, titling each with the event, the date and the location,” she says. “I then grouped the documents into folders, one folder for each year.”

To help you organize source references, add in-text references with the title, author and page or record number in parentheses when you use information from a record, article, book or website. Also create a bibliography of sources as you go. This should include everything needed to find that source again: title, author, publisher or creator (such as the National Archives), publication date and place, website, etc.

Later, when your project is mostly complete, you can keep the in-text references, or number the references and create footnotes (short-form citations at the bottom of the page) or end notes (short-form citations at the end of a chapter). Include the bibliography at the end of your work. For help with source citations, use the book Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Genealogical Publishing Co.).

You might have a writing head start if you can pull together blog posts or short essays you’ve already written about your family history. Your genealogy software or online tree might offer a timeline you can follow, or even generate a narrative report for you. For an ambitious project or if you do a lot of writing, you might invest in software such as Scrivener . Additionally, writing apps can help you create an outline, organize and edit your story.

Read: How to Create a Genealogy Source Citation

5. Generate Ideas through Prompts and Research

If you’re still having trouble knowing what to write, try answering the family history writing prompts in a book such as Stories From My Grandparent or from Family Tree Magazine . These will help you flesh out ideas and take your family stories in new directions.

Revisit your research for story ideas, and let what you find in documents inspire you. Wilson consulted books (both digital and physical) about her ancestors’ location and ethnic group, as well as documents on genealogy websites like Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com. One book on Ancestry.com contained all the church records for her ancestors, some written by her great-great-great-grandfather’s best friend.

Wilson also revisited local histories and newspapers she had found early in her project. “Now that I was further in my research, I recognized more names and better understood the relationships among them,” she says. “People I had dismissed as “townsfolk” turned out to be in-laws and close friends of my lineal ancestors.”

6. Seek Out Help

Look for writers’ groups and classes in your community. From online groups to friends and family members, having a community you can rely on for feedback and encouragement is essential.

Reaching out can also lead to new research finds, important for sourcing the details in your stories. Wilson connected with other family historians, as well as genealogical societies and libraries (who scanned entire chapters of reference books for her to consult). One cousin-in-law even sent her photos and a relevant family keepsake they found on eBay.

7. Begin in the Middle

Don’t let the “how to start” roadblock stall your project right out of the gate. If you don’t know how to begin, just start writing a story you like—maybe it’s about an ancestor’s immigration, military service or venture to the wrong side of the law. The words will flow from there.

“My goal wasn’t perfection, just to get memories on the page,” Wilson says about her first step of writing family biographies. “I didn’t waste time checking spelling and grammar—that would come later.” An interesting or dramatic event is often the best way to begin a story, anyway. Remember, you’re not carving in stone: You can always rearrange things later.

8. Write Naturally

If you’re writing for relatives, pretend you’re telling your family story to a friend. If you’re writing for a publication, tailor your work to that publication’s style.

Wilson had to wrestle with how to balance facts she found in her research with storytelling. “I thought of how much I hated history class growing up—all those names-places-dates to memorize, and no story to latch onto,” Wilson says. “I resolved to … strive for historical accuracy without resorting to the dry tone of a textbook.”

9. Take Your Time

A deadline can motivate you, but give yourself plenty of time. You want this project to add fulfillment to your family research, not cause stress. Start now and work on your writing project a little at a time, once a week or every evening if you can manage it. Imagine where you’ll be a year from now.

A version of this article appeared in the December 2018 issue of Family Tree Magazine , written by Diane Haddad. Sophia Wilson’s article on the steps she took to write her family history narrative appeared in the March/April 2022 issue of Family Tree Magazine .

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Summaries, Analysis & Lists

Short Stories About Family & Family Relationships

The major interactions in these short stories are carried out by members of the same family. They deal with families coping with outside problems and with each other. They might also show the closeness of the family unit, the demands family members place on each other, or the mistakes they make in dealing with each other. The first group of stories are in the general “family” category and have stories that depict a balance of family relationships, and ones that represent the more specific categories below.

There’s a separate section at the bottom for Grandparents . If you’re looking for another specific family relationship, there are separate pages that have more selections for:

  • Parents & Children
  • Marriage & Divorce

Find a Short Story About Family

short story about family

“Nobody Said Anything” by Raymond Carver

A married couple argue one morning before work. One of their sons, Roger, fakes being sick so he can stay home by himself. He ends up being bored. He looks through his parents room, trying to get some insight into romantic matters. He decides to set out for Birch Creek to do some fishing.

This story can be read in the preview of  Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories.

Get   Where I’m Calling From   Free on Audible

“Sticks” by George Saunders

A father has a pole in his yard that he dresses according to the occasion. He’s a stingy man and his family lives on edge. ( Summary & Analysis )

This is the second story in the preview of  Tenth of December: Stories . 

“Goodbye, My Brother” by John Cheever

A mother and her four grown children and their families gather at Laud’s Head, their family-owned summer house. The youngest brother, Lawrence, is the outsider of the siblings. Everyone mingles but Lawrence’s presence creates some tension. They talk, drink and play games.

“Goodbye, My Brother” is the first story in the Amazon preview of  The Stories of John Cheever.

“Dog” by Richard Russo

A nine year old boy desperately wants a dog. He badgers his parents, university professors, about it constantly. Eventually, he makes some progress. ( Summary )

“Timothy’s Birthday” by William Trevor

Charlotte and Odo, an elderly married couple, prepare for a birthday visit from their son, Timothy. They don’t see him often, but he does visit on his birthday each year. Charlotte prepares his favorite meal, and Odo makes sure the gin and tonic is ready to serve. Meanwhile, Timothy tells Eddie that he isn’t going to go.

This is the third story in the preview of  Selected Stories .  (50% into preview)

“Royal Beatings” by Alice Munro

Rose lives with her father and stepmother in a poor area. Her stepmother relates the story of a local man who gets attacked. She also threatens Rose with a “royal beating.”

This is the first story in the preview of  Alice Munro’s Best: Selected Stories .  (25% into preview)

“Half a Moon” by Renée Watson

The seventeen-year-old narrator remembers when her Dad left when she was seven. Her Mom doesn’t think she remembers her Dad, but she does. She remembers lots of things from back then. She works at Oak Creek Campgrounds on spring break to help with the bills. She’ll be going to college next year, so she wants her last year on the job to be good. When the sixth-grade girls arrive, she recognizes one of them—Brooke, her Dad’s daughter.

This story can be read in the preview of  Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America .  (19% into preview)

“Relative Stranger” by Amanda Witt

Glory is working in the kitchen when the doorbell rings. Through a window, she catches a glimpse of  her husband, Owen on the step. When she opens it and he fully faces her, she’s surprised to see it’s not him. He knows her name and says Owen told him to come inside. Glory is unsettled, but she can’t lock him out. Her boys are outside.

This story can be read in the preview of  When a Stranger Comes to Town .  (39% in)

“The Letter” by Laura Bulger

Domingos writes a letter to his parents back home in Portugal. He tells them the positive things but leaves many other things unsaid. His family life is unhappy. ( Summary )

“Curly Red” by Joyce Carol Oates

Lili Rose wasn’t allowed to return home until her father was weakened and dying at seventy-three. She was exiled at thirteen, sent to live with an aunt and uncle. She had four older brothers who were often in trouble. Things changed when a local boy was attacked and beaten, and died soon after from his injuries. Lili Rose overheard some conversation. She made a decision that alienated her from her family.

This story can be read in the preview of  I Am No One You Know: And Other Stories .  (9% in)

“Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty

The narrator’s sister, Stella-Rondo, comes home with her husband and two-year-old daughter for a visit. The family’s communication is dysfunctional, with much petty arguing.

“Today I Am Paul” by Martin L. Shoemaker

A Medical Care Android capable of emulation attends to Mildred as she lies ill. She thinks her son Paul is present, so the android emulates him. While emulating, the android is bound by the personality of the person, but can override if Mildred’s health is at risk. Her family has hired staff to help care for her. The android’s emulation net—an expensive add-on—allows Mildred to have her family around even when they aren’t there.

This story can be read in the preview of  The Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 1 .  (15% in)

Find a Short Story About Family, Cont’d

“Every Little Hurricane” by Sherman Alexie

Victor’s parents are hosting a New Year’s party. A hurricane hits the Spokane Indian Reservation where they live. While the winds rage outside, two of Victor’s uncles start fighting inside.

Some of “Every Little Hurricane” can be read in the preview of  The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven .

“Simple Arithmetic” by Virginia Moriconi

A teenage son and his divorced parents correspond by mail. He has trouble reaching his mother, and his father nags him about various things.

Read “Simple Arithmetic” This story can be found in the anthology  Other People’s Mail: An Anthology of Letter Stories .

“Calved” by Sam J. Miller

A father sees his son, Thede, after being away on a job for three months. Thede has changed; he’s a teenager so he’s grown some, but more importantly his demeanor is different. His eyes are flat and joyless. They have trouble connecting. Thede’s mother says he’s having some trouble at school with bullies. The dad has a sentimental gift for Thede that he hopes will turn the tide.

This story can be read in the preview of  The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 1 .  (32% in)

“The Rockpile” by James Baldwin

Johnny and Roy live across the street from a mass of natural rock, known as the rockpile. It’s a popular play spot for the neighborhood kids. The boys are warned to stay away from it by their parents, who think it’s dangerous. One day while sitting on the fire escape, some of Roy’s friends ask him to come with them.

This story can be read in the preview of  Going to Meet the Man: Stories .  (14% in)

“The Secret of Life, According to Aunt Gladys” by Bruce Coville

When a woman is told her brother called, she gets pale. Her son didn’t know she had a brother. Her husband only found out about him from a picture. He’s coming to visit. The boy looks forward to having an uncle. The mother wants to avoid the visit.

“The Secret of Life, According to Aunt Gladys” is in  Dirty Laundry: Stories About Family Secrets.

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Kurt Vonnegut

In future New York, the extended Schwartz family live together in an apartment suite. A tonic that stops aging, anti-gerasone, has stopped death from old age leading to overpopulation. The family patriarch, Gramps, is 172 years old. He’s the only one with his own room, and he gets the best food and chair. He maintains control by threatening to disinherit anyone who bothers him. He keeps saying he will stop taking anti-gerasone to make way for the younger ones, but he always puts it off. One day, his grandson, Lou, makes a smart remark, which Gramps can’t let go unpunished.

“Home” by Gwendolyn Brooks

A family waits on the front porch for the man of the house to come home. He’s trying to get an extension on the mortgage payments, so the family is worried about losing their house.

“Home” by George Saunders

A man, Mikey, returns home. The place is untidy, his Ma is watching her language because she works at a church now, and she’s living with a new man, Harris, who is unemployed. Mikey had done something while away that got him in trouble. He visits his dysfunctional family.

“Rocket Man” by Ray Bradbury

Doug’s father is a rocket man, an astronaut, who’s coming home after three months in space. Doug’s mother wants her husband to stay home with them, but he always feels the pull of space and leaves again. He is torn between his family and his love of space.

“Simple Recipes” by Madeleine Thien

The narrator relates some memories from her childhood. She learned a special way of cooking rice from her father. Her mother worked at Woodward’s. Her older brother was more distant with their family. They immigrated to Canada from Malaysia before the narrator was born.

Read “Simple Recipes”

“Seventeen Syllables” by  Hisaye Yamamoto

Mrs. Hayashi is a Japanese immigrant living in America. She writes haiku, but her daughter, Rosie, can’t read Japanese, so they don’t connect through her poems. Rosie is attracted to Jesús, a Mexican boy at her high school.

“Graveyard Day” by Bobbie Ann Mason

Waldeen is divorced from Joe Murdock, the father of her ten-year-old daughter, Holly. Joe McClain spends a lot of time with them and wants to marry Waldeen. She is uncertain and finds the dynamics of shifting family relationships confusing.

“A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease” by Jonathan Safran Foer

The narrator explains the meaning of many different unusual punctuation marks that are used in communication, mostly with family.

Read “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease”

“How I Contemplated the World from the Detroit House of Correction and Began My Life Over Again” by Joyce Carol Oates

A sixteen-year-old girl relates the events that lead her to a house of correction. Looking for love and attention at home, she engages in petty crimes, which escalates to her running away.

Read “How I Contemplated…”

“Oliver’s Evolution” by John Updike

Oliver was born later in his parents’ lives when they didn’t have much energy for raising him. They made some mistakes with him, and he has some close calls as he grows up.

“Miles City, Montana” by Alice Munro

A wife, husband, and their two young daughters are driving to visit the grandparents in Ontario. The wife, who is the narrator, remembers an incident from her childhood when a local boy drowned. During the drive, there are some squabbles and the family gets very hot, causing them to look for a cool spot to take a break.

“In the White Night” by Ann Beattie

Carol and Vernon have lost their daughter to Leukemia. Their friends, Matt and Gaye Brinkley, are having difficulties with their daughter. Vernon compares his and his wife’s situation to the Brinkley’s.

“The Peasant’s Will” by Antonio Fogazzaro

An old man lies dying on a hay bed up in a loft. A lawyer visits to draw up the man’s will. He can’t speak but is able to make signs to indicate his wishes.

“Likes” by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

A father scrolls through his daughter’s Instagram, trying to get a sense of how she’s doing. She doesn’t talk to him much. He drives her to physical therapy twice a week for joint problems. Her mood varies, and she doesn’t feel like she has friends. She’s going to try out for a part in the “Nutcracker.”

“Sixpence” by Katherine Mansfield

Dicky is almost always a good boy. He has rare times when he gets into a mood and rebels. Dicky’s mother is entertaining Mrs. Spears one afternoon when Dicky starts acting up. He breaks a plate and runs off. Mrs. Spears offers some child-rearing advice.

“How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” by Lorrie Moore

The narrator covers events in the life of the protagonist starting in 1982 and working back to 1939. It relates significant moments with her mother, father, brother, and her interactions with men.

Read “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)”

“Midnight Raid” by Brady Udall

The narrator, a six-foot-three Apache Indian, is in the backyard of his ex-wife. He’s brought a goat for his son. There’s a restraining order against him so he wants to sneak into the house unnoticed. He relates some of his history with his ex.

 Read “Midnight Raid”

Short Stories About Family: Grandparents

“an hour with abuelo” by judith ortiz cofer.

Arturo doesn’t want to visit his grandfather in a nursing home during his summer vacation, but he gives in to his mother’s urging. His grandfather’s body is giving out but his mind is sharp. He tells Arturo the story of his life, which included teaching, the army, farming, and a love of books and learning. ( Summary & Analysis )

Read “An Hour with Abuelo”

“Flight” by Doris Lessing

An old man tries to hold on to a beloved bird and a beloved granddaughter. ( Summary )

“My Flamboyant Grandson” by George Saunders

A boy loves show-tunes and singing and dancing, which alienates him from his peers and many adults. His grandfather accepts him and brings him to New York to see a show. He obtains a Promissory Voucher and they head to the Eisner Theater. Upon arriving he finds this isn’t enough. He also needs Proof of Purchases from at least six of their sponsors and the real tickets from the Redemption Center. ( Summary )

“The Jade Peony” by Wayson Choy

The narrator, a Chinese-Canadian, remembers when his Grandmama died at 83. The family is waiting for some kind of sign, according to their tradition, that her life had ended well. He relates some experiences with her during her later years, including how they would go hunting in the neighborhood for glass fragments and old jewelry.

“The Medicine Bag” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve

Martin, a Native American boy in his early teens, visits his great-grandfather every summer at his South Dakota reservation. Martin and his sister talk proudly to their friends about the reservation. One day his great-grandfather shows up unexpectedly in his Iowa neighborhood.

I hope you found a great short story about family.

  • The Godfather Books

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'Young Sheldon' tragedy: George Cooper's death is flawed father's 'Big Bang' redemption

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Spoiler alert: This story includes details of the May 9 penultimate "Young Sheldon" episode.

You can't say you didn't see George Cooper Sr.'s death coming after seven seasons of "Young Sheldon," the prequel spinoff series to "The Big Bang Theory ." After all, in the original CBS series, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) referenced his football coach father, George Sr., who died from a heart attack when the young physics genius was 14 and growing up in East Texas.

George Sr.'s death was part of the "Big Bang Theory" mythology, which was crucial to connect by the end of "Young Sheldon," which is narrated by Parsons. Still, the offscreen heart attack death of George Sr. (Lance Barber) revealed in the final moments of the May 9 episode, the last before the May 16 two-part series finale, is, well, heartbreaking.

And not just for Sheldon (Iain Armitage) and devoted TV fans.

"It was even heartbreaking for everyone on the set making that show," says "Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon" co-creator and executive producer Chuck Lorre. "We're all so invested in this character. Being fictional doesn't take away the difficulty in saying goodbye. But it's been seven years in the making. We all knew this would happen."

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Here are the ramifications of George Sr.'s "Young Sheldon" death:

How did Sheldon Cooper's father die in 'Young Sheldon'?

Everything seems to be falling into place for new grandfather George Sr., suddenly sailing amid his sometimes stormy family life. His wife Mary (Zoe Perry) and daughter Missy (Raegan Revord) are even supportive of his dream job offer, coaching football at Houston's Rice University, which would require a family move.

"With the stakes so high, it makes the tragedy that unfolds an even bigger punch in the gut," says Barber.

George Sr. survives a ladder climb, fixing the roof for the house sale. His son Georgie (Montana Jordan, who will lead another spinoff series next season) admonishes him for safety reasons. The two carry away the ladder in a tender father-son moment.

But the next day, as George Sr. heads off to work, he picks up his travel mug, promises to be back for a family photo shoot and gives an unacknowledged, "See you all later." Sheldon doesn't look up from his book as his father walks out the kitchen door into the (heavenly bright) sunlight, never to return.

"It was purposely a banal nothing moment in Sheldon's life that he will struggle with," says Lorre. "Because he learns it's the last time he'll ever see his father. He will live to regret that moment in his life where he'll say, 'I could have done that better.'"

Hours later, the shocked family is informed that George Sr. died of a heart attack. Sheldon wordlessly sits with a stunned expression, processing the unfathomable loss.

Why George Sr.'s death changes his maligned 'Big Bang Theory' character

George Sr., frequently the butt of adult Sheldon's dark humor in "Big Bang," is the flawed character who changes the most due to "Young Sheldon."

"In 'Big Bang Theory,' when George was an offscreen character who's no longer alive, you could make all the jokes you want. But 'Young Sheldon' is a sweeter family show," says Steve Holland, a producer and writer on both series. "And because of Lance Barber's portrayal of George in 'Young Sheldon,' you didn't believe his dad could be that bad."

For example, adult Sheldon explains in "Big Bang Theory" that he knocks three times on a door because he traumatically walked in on his cheating father "having relations" with a mysterious blonde woman. In a March episode, the alleged infidelity is explained away in a scene where Sheldon walks in on blonde-wigged Mary role-playing with her husband as a campy German named Helga.

George Sr.'s death completes his character's redemption, explaining why Sheldon has such a dark view of his father. Sheldon is immediately consumed with grief and remorse over his final non-goodbye, which he obsesses over, starting with the last haunting stare.

"Sheldon is already playing his last moments over and over," says Barber. "All the regrets and things that he wishes he said."

What will happen in the 'Young Sheldon' finale?

The two-part May 16 finale (8 EDT/EDT) features Sheldon and his family grieving at George Sr.'s funeral.

But the finale also finds joy after loss, as Sheldon moves on to college (the California Institute of Technology, as fans already know). Parsons returns as an older Sheldon, reprising his role with Mayim Bialik, who plays his wife Amy, for the first time since "Big Bang" ended in 2019.

The screen couple has two young children. And Sheldon's struggles with fatherhood have softened his feelings about his own father, George Sr. "There's a recognition that his father is a human being who is flawed but doing the very best he can," says Lorre. "That's an epiphany you have about your parents when you're older. This finale is very much about Sheldon's perspective on his father. It changes for the better, given time and his own experience raising his children, who he doesn't understand."

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Here's Exactly What to Write in Your Graduation Card to Congratulate the Class of 2024

W hether you’re celebrating in person, or sending your sister, brother, or friend a graduation card in your absence, wish the new graduate in your life all the best on their hard work and future successes with these thoughtful graduation wishes . No matter if your daughter, son, or distant relative is celebrating their preschool graduation , high school graduation , college graduation , or some level of higher ed, we have a host of short and sweet messages to share in honor of their aptitude and achievement.

Among our list of sayings, we have funny graduation messages , inspirational graduation quotes , and classic congratulatory wishes to send the graduate your best regards and to say "Happy Graduation!" in a unique way.

Because graduation season can be a hectic time of year, we recommend bookmarking this page to reference any time you receive a graduation invite in the mail. And if you’re on the hunt for graduation presents as well, we’ve got that too! We have cheap graduation gifts for those buying in bulk, law school graduation gifts for the soon-to-be attorney, medical school graduation gifts for the new doctor in your life, and many more.

So join the new grad in honoring this momentous achievement, and don’t forget to share a heartfelt “I’m proud of you” as you celebrate.

Short Graduation Wishes

  • This is only the beginning. Congratulations!
  • You did it! Congratulations.
  • Caps off to you, graduate. Feel proud of your academic achievement!
  • Your future is beyond bright. Congratulations on a job well done!
  • After years of hard work and sacrifice, it’s finally paid off. Congratulations!
  • Warmest congratulations on your academic milestone!
  • I’m so proud of you! Congratulations on this exceptional accomplishment.
  • It’s time to celebrate, and relish this momentous occasion! Congratulations on charting your path to the future.
  • Best wishes on this spectacular day of achievement! Congratulations, graduate.
  • Congratulations on your well-deserved success!
  • I’m proud of you for always hitting the books and staying the course. A new adventure awaits. Congratulations!
  • The world is yours!
  • The sky's the limit!
  • Congratulations on your graduation, and best wishes for your journey ahead.
  • Congratulations on your well-deserved accomplishment.
  • Sincerest congratulations on your graduation.
  • I wish you all the best: Your future is very bright. Warmest congratulations on your graduation.
  • Thank you for inviting me to share in celebrating this much-deserved accomplishment. Congratulations, graduate!
  • Warmest congratulations, and best of luck in your future pursuits.

Funny Graduation Messages

  • Congrats on collecting the fanciest piece of paper you’ll ever own.
  • When they hand you your diploma, keep walking, just in case they try to take it back.
  • My hope for you is that your impactful memories of college last longer than your student loans.
  • We both accomplished something today. You: a diploma. Me: not falling asleep during the ceremony.
  • Don’t forget to thank those who were really there for you … Starbucks, Google, and ChatGPT.
  • Congrats on filling a minimum job requirement!
  • Kudos to you for FINALLY graduating!
  • I guess Cs really do get degrees. Congrats, grad!
  • Congrats on your degree and newly formed caffeine addiction.
  • Congratulations! Now you can finally start getting paid to work, rather than paying to do it!
  • You did it... now let's party!
  • Now that you have the degree, you can start paying the bills! Congratulations, grad!

Inspirational Graduation Wishes

  • Today is just one of life's many sweet victories. Be sure to stop, and savor this incredible moment!
  • Make a difference. Live the dream. Relish the adventure. Make your mark. Happy graduation.
  • Graduation is not the end — it’s the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning. I can’t wait to watch you excel.
  • Never be afraid to follow your dreams. Remember, you’re the only person who can fulfill them. You’ve got this!
  • Now is your time! You’re unstoppable. I want you to enjoy, and celebrate this outstanding accomplishment.
  • Never let a setback take you off track. Stay focused, and continue to chase your dreams!
  • Chasing a dream requires passion and hard work. Congratulations on graduating and your continuous strive!
  • Your dedication and hard work have paid off. We're excited to see you soar!
  • You’re on your way to greatness; witnessing your success is a joy and privilege. We will always root for you.
  • Keep going, no matter what obstacles may get in your way. We know you’re fearless and can overcome any challenges. Congratulations on getting this far in your quest for knowledge.
  • Today, as you receive your diploma, remember all that you’ve accomplished. The best is yet to come! Keep striving for success, and you will have all your heart’s desires.
  • There is no challenge you can't conquer. Sincerest congratulations on this incredible achievement.
  • I have no doubt you will meet all of life's challenges with aplomb. Congratulations on your enormous accomplishment!

Wise Graduation Card Messages

  • As you make your way in the world, never lose sight of the things that matter most. Congratulations!
  • Be bold, be fearless, and watch your best self blossom while you accomplish your dreams.
  • Always maintain a positive attitude, and never stop believing in yourself. Confidence goes a long way. Kudos to you!
  • When it seems like others are outperforming you on the path to success, keep in mind that everyone blossoms at their own pace. Stay focused. Congratulations!
  • There will be times when the road seems bumpy, but never give up. Stay the course, and the destination will be even sweeter. I know you can do it!
  • School may be over, but never stop asking questions. Questions are the keys to unlocking endless opportunities.
  • Start each day believing in your dreams. Know without a doubt that you were made for great things.
  • No one will believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself. Stay encouraged, and always remember your worth.
  • Continue to set the bar high, and attempt to exceed expectations. Happy graduation!
  • Today will soon be a memory, so be present, and relish every second of it. Caps off to you, graduate!

Graduation Wishes for Family Members

  • I'm always in your corner, but today, the stage is all yours. You did it!
  • Education is the key which unlocks all your potential. It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. We know the degree you’ve worked so hard for will help you thrive in the field you’ve chosen. We love you so much, congratulations.
  • I've been behind you all the way, and I always will be. Congrats, graduate!
  • Duties and responsibilities go hand in hand. It's time to take even more responsible decisions. You're a graduate! Happy Graduation Day!
  • There's never been anything you couldn't do when you put your mind to it. Congratulations!
  • This is your achievement, but you've never been alone — and you never will be. I'm honored to be on your winning team.
  • I know just how much work this represents, and I hope your heart is swelling with the same pride as mine.
  • I can't wait to witness the magic you'll create. Congratulations!
  • Congratulations to our little graduate. No matter where you go or how successful you become, never lose faith in God. Always be humble. Your parents always think about you.
  • I never doubted you'd make it, and here you are. My heart is bursting with pride.
  • School may be over, but family is forever.
  • School's out, but your journey is just beginning. I can't wait to see where it takes you!
  • Your future is bright. For all of the late night studies and sacrifices of enjoyment and parties, your reward is finally here. Congratulations to our beloved child who has emerged victorious.
  • I hope you know how proud I am of you.
  • I've always believed in you — and I always will. Congrats, grad!
  • It’s hard to believe that today is finally here. It seems just like yesterday you were a baby playing with alphabet blocks, now, you’re graduating. Congratulations!
  • We still remember your first day of school. On that day, we were nervous to send you away. Today feels the same. We are nervous yet again, as you face the world by yourself, but deep inside, we know you’ll always come out a winner. Best of luck, son.
  • I stand by you today — and I always will. Congrats on your big day!
  • I'm so happy to share in the joy and excitement of your big day.
  • I'm honored to join you in celebrating this important milestone. Congratulations on your graduation!
  • Being here, by your side today, means the world to me.
  • Sharing this day with you is one of my proudest moments. Congratulations!
  • Congrats, grad! I'm alongside you on your journey today, and always.
  • It would have meant the world to me to share this day with you. But know, I am celebrating your huge success across the miles. Congratulations!
  • The only thing that would have made this day more perfect is if we could have celebrated it together. (But in my heart, I'm by your side.) Congratulations!
  • My regret over missing this day is eclipsed only by my overflowing pride in you, graduate.
  • It would have been my great pleasure to celebrate your big day in person, but I hope you can feel me cheering you on from afar. Congrats on your big day!
  • I'm sorry I'm not there in person, but I'm with you on every step of your journey — you can count on that.
  • Congratulations on your graduation day! I’m right there with you in spirit.
  • I'm sorry to miss the big day, but I promise we'll celebrate together as soon as we can. Congratulations, grad!

Famous Quotes for Graduation Cards

  • “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” — William Shakespeare
  • "You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." — Carter Crocker, Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin
  • "Whatever you choose for a career path, remember, the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose." — Chadwick Boseman
  • "Change takes courage." — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
  • “Cherish your visions and your dreams, as they are the children of your soul, the blueprints of your ultimate achievements.” — Napoleon Hill
  • "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." — Mahatma Gandhi
  • “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
  • “ Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.” — Albert Einstein
  • "Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead.” — Nora Ephron
  • "We will fail when we fail to try." — Rosa Parks
  • "My dear, terrified graduates, you are about to enter the most uncertain and thrilling period of your lives." — Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” — Malcolm X
  • "You must do the thing you think you cannot do." — Eleanor Roosevelt, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life
  • "We know what we are but know not what we may be.” — William Shakespeare, Hamlet
  • “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs
  • "Once you face your fear, nothing is ever as hard as you think. "— Olivia Newton-John
  • “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” — Babe Ruth
  • “There are no regrets in life. Just lessons.” — Jennifer Aniston
  • “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau
  • “I encourage you to live with life. Be courageous, adventurous. Give us a tomorrow, more than we deserve.” — Maya Angelou
  • "Follow your passion. It will lead you to your purpose." — Oprah Winfrey
  • "All those adults that you used to think were in charge and knew what they were doing? It turns out, they don’t have all the answers. A lot of them aren’t even asking the right questions. So, if the world’s going to get better, it’s going to be up to you." — Barack Obama
  • "It is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change. "— Queen Elizabeth II
  • “Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in.” — Hillary Clinton
  • "The reality is, on most matters, somebody is going to make the decision — so why not let it be you?" — Kamala Harris
  • "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. And you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy who’ll decide where to go. Congratulations graduate." — Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!
  • "Before you act, listen. Before you react, think. And, before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. And, before you quit, try." — William Arthur Ward

These short graduation messages and quotes are the perfect way to wish a high school or college grad congratulations with a sweet graduation card.

clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

Post wins 3 Pulitzers, including for abortion coverage, feature writing

‘His Name Is George Floyd,’ by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, is awarded prize for general nonfiction

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The Washington Post won three Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, including one for reporting on the consequences of changing abortion laws, and another for a series of intimate portraits illuminating the societal toll of the pandemic.

“ His Name Is George Floyd ,” a book written by reporters Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa, also won a Pulitzer for best general nonfiction. The biography built upon reporting for a 2020 Post series that intertwined a deeply personal biography of Floyd with an exploration of the racial inequities that shaped his life.

Journalism published by The Post was also honored in five prize divisions as Pulitzer finalists. The total of eight honorees is the largest for The Post since 2002.

The century-old Pulitzer contest, administered by Columbia University, is considered by many to be journalism’s highest honor, and all three of this year’s winning Post entries were the result of the kind of intense reporting and commitment of resources that is frequently only achievable by the nation’s largest and best-funded news organizations. The New York Times, Associated Press and Los Angeles Times, for example, each won two Pulitzers this year.

But regional news organizations were also honored — notably AL.com , the joint operation of three Alabama newspapers, which won two prizes Monday.

The most prestigious Pulitzer, the gold medal for public service, was awarded to the AP for its work documenting the siege of Mariupol during the Russian invasion of Ukraine — mostly through the eyes of two native Ukrainian correspondents, Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka, who risked their lives as the last journalists in the soon-to-be-decimated city . Ukraine was also the subject of the AP’s breaking news photography prize and the New York Times’s win for international reporting.

Read The Washington Post’s 2023 Pulitzer Prize winners

A panel of judges awarded the Pulitzer for national reporting to The Post’s Caroline Kitchener, 31, for stories that tracked the changing landscape of abortion laws, revealed the emergence of covert abortion pill pipelines , and explored the deeply personal and complex impact on the lives of women unable to get abortions after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade .

Eli Saslow, 40, was awarded the Pulitzer for feature writing for stories that depicted the fissures of post-pandemic America. In one story, Saslow introduced readers to an eager teacher arriving from the Philippines only to encounter an American education system on the brink of collapse. In another, he followed a bus driver in Denver dealing with the reality of widespread homelessness and addiction. It’s the second Pulitzer for Saslow, who also won a prize for explanatory reporting in 2014.

“The real lesson to me is that the value that news organizations bring is reporting — real, deep reporting,” Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said. “Actually talking to people. Don’t just shout about an issue. Don’t just cover it on a political level. Dive deep into issues to try to say what is really going on.”

The newsroom staff was named a finalist for the prestigious public service gold medal for a multipart series on the fentanyl crisis that traced the problem throughout the United States and Mexico. Monica Hesse was a finalist for best commentary for her columns giving voice to anger and frustration in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Roe decision. “ Broken Doors ,” an investigative podcast series on the dangers of no-knock warrants, was named a finalist for audio reporting. Terrence McCoy, the paper’s Rio de Janeiro bureau chief, was a finalist for explanatory reporting for his series on the Amazon rainforest’s destruction .

“I can’t think of anything that more clearly demonstrates the breadth of excellence of the newsroom,” Buzbee said of the finalists.

Cartoonist Pia Guerra was also a finalist for best illustrated reporting and commentary for several cartoons that were published in The Post’s Opinion section, which operates independently from the newsroom.

Samuels is now a staff writer at the New Yorker, and Saslow is now a writer-at-large at the New York Times. A three-time finalist for the feature writing prize, Saslow called Monday’s award a “really fortunate and wonderful bookend to a remarkably rewarding chapter of my career.”

Saslow’s winning entry explored the many ways the country had become fractured and polarized by the pandemic — visible in schools, in cities, in the economy and in mental health.

“For most people, the only way to sort of feel something for someone else’s experience is to read about it,” he said. “That’s how we build our empathy about other people’s experience in this kind of messy country we share.”

Saslow’s standard practice is to embed with his subjects for days at a time to closely observe their lives. For one story, he fixed on the tensions erupting within mass transit systems. He initially spent several days interviewing Philadelphia train conductors and poring over incident reports from across the country. Then he interviewed more than a dozen bus drivers in Denver before he decided to focus on Suna Karabay , accompanying her on her bus route.

For another story, Saslow shadowed a billionaire grappling with the morality of being so rich at a time of stark economic disparities. “I spend more time on the other side of that” divide, Saslow said. “But I think it’s really important in journalism to always try to cover everybody.”

“He doesn't build his stories from any kind of assumption. Every sentence is a defensible piece of reporting,” said Saslow’s longtime editor, David Finkel. “He’s empathetic without being maudlin. There’s that authenticity to his work.”

Hernan Diaz, Barbara Kingsolver among 2023 Pulitzer winners for the arts

In reporting their George Floyd book, which was also a finalist in the biography category, Samuels, 38, and Olorunnipa, 37, temporarily relocated to Minneapolis and Houston, and spent significant time with their subject’s family and friends. Floyd was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020, and his name became a rallying cry for racial justice. The authors also spent time with his survivors during the trial that led to the conviction of Derek Chauvin.

“It was truly the honor of our lives to take this guy who everyone was okay with reducing to an image on a wall or hashtag and showing he was flesh and blood and truly mattered to people,” Samuels said. “Not in a theoretical way — his life mattered.”

The resulting work showed a man with ambitions who believed in American ideals but faced much harsher treatment than others when he made mistakes. “It’s easy to cite all of the social science research that shows racial injustices and, yes, racial disparities come from somewhere,” Olorunnipa said. “It’s harder to get people to feel a sense of responsibility about righting some of the wrongs in our society.”

When the pair began reporting, books about racial injustice were heralded as must-reads. By the time “His Name Is George Floyd” was released, some of those same books were being banned in schools and libraries across the country. Samuels said he hopes the Pulitzer recognition “helps to extend and revivify this necessary conversation that we need to have in this country, about the roots of our problems. To have this award support that kind of work means so much.”

On the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June, Kitchener witnessed chaos and tears inside a Houston abortion clinic.

She had reported from the same clinic a year earlier , after her then-editor, the late Neema Roshania Patel , encouraged her to cover the impact of a new six-week abortion ban in Texas when both were working for the Lily, a Post offshoot aimed at millennial women.

Kitchener’s reporting around the Texas ban convinced her that Roe would inevitably fall, an unfathomable outcome for so many Americans. Few other major news organizations had a single reporter devoted to the issue. “It was so baked into our culture, the idea that Roe is the law of the land,” she said.

She proposed covering abortion full time, moving to The Post’s politics staff last year. “She could see that it wasn’t only a story about the law or the courts or about the politics of abortion,” said her editor, senior national investigations editor Peter Wallsten. “It was a story about the direct impact on people’s lives.”

By the time the Supreme Court’s majority opinion to overturn Roe was leaked in May, Kitchener was already deeply embedded in the issue, having broken news about the direction of the antiabortion cause and written deeply personal stories about the women affected by the Texas ban — and becoming adept at navigating an incredibly polarizing issue. One story about a Texas teenager who sought an abortion but is now the mother of twins was widely shared and praised on social media by both liberal commentators and conservative senators.

“So often people don’t hear anything about why the other side feels differently,” Kitchener said. “In my work, I really strive to sit in that complication in between two sides, in the gray areas and the nuance.”

Full list of 2023 Pulitzer winners:

  • Public Service: Associated Press
  • Breaking News Reporting: Staff of the Los Angeles Times
  • Investigative Reporting: Staff of the Wall Street Journal
  • Explanatory Reporting: Caitlin Dickerson of the Atlantic
  • Local Reporting: John Archibald, Ashley Remkus, Ramsey Archibald and Challen Stephens of AL.com , Birmingham; and Anna Wolfe of Mississippi Today, Ridgeland, Miss.
  • National Reporting: Caroline Kitchener of The Washington Post
  • International Reporting: Staff of the New York Times
  • Feature Writing: Eli Saslow of The Washington Post
  • Commentary: Kyle Whitmire of AL.com , Birmingham
  • Criticism: Andrea Long Chu of New York magazine
  • Editorial Writing: Nancy Ancrum, Amy Driscoll, Luisa Yanez, Isadora Rangel and Lauren Costantino of the Miami Herald
  • Illustrated Reporting and Commentary: Mona Chalabi, contributor, the New York Times
  • Breaking News Photography: Photography staff of the Associated Press
  • Feature Photography: Christina House of the Los Angeles Times
  • Audio Reporting: Staff of Gimlet Media, notably Connie Walker
  • Fiction: “Demon Copperhead,” Barbara Kingsolver; “Trust,” Hernan Diaz
  • Drama: “English,” Sanaz Toossi
  • History: “Freedom’s Dominion: A Saga of White Resistance to Federal Power,” Jefferson Cowie
  • Biography: “G-Man: J. Edgar Hoover and the Making of the American Century,” Beverly Gage
  • Memoir or Autobiography: “Stay True,” Hua Hsu
  • Poetry: “Then the War: And Selected Poems 2007-2020,” Carl Phillips
  • General Nonfiction: “His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice,” Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
  • Music: “Omar,” Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels

The Post’s Pulitzer Prize history

2024: Washington Post wins three Pulitzer Prizes, including for AR-15 series, editorial writing and commentary | Read the stories

2023: Washington Post wins three Pulitzer Prizes, including for abortion coverage, feature writing | Read the stories

2022: Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for public service for Jan. 6 coverage | Read the stories

2021: Reporting about racial justice and pandemic dominates Pulitzer Prizes | Read the stories

2020: Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for series that detailed environmental devastation in global hot spots | Read the stories

2019: The Post wins Pulitzer Prizes for criticism, photography; affiliated cartoonist also honored | Read the stories

2018: The Post wins 2 Pulitzer Prizes for reporting on Russian interference and Alabama Senate race | Read the stories

2017: Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold wins Pulitzer Prize for dogged reporting of Trump’s philanthropy | Read the stories

2016: The Washington Post wins Pulitzer Prize for coverage of police shootings | Read the stories

The Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize awards history

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write a feature story about your family

ChatGPT’s memory feature is rolling out widely, but I have one big reason to worry about it

write a feature story about your family

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OpenAI announced a big upgrade for ChatGPT a few months ago. The chatbot would be able to retain memories from your conversations with it. This happens in two ways: You can tell ChatGPT to remember specific things about yourself or let it pick up details from chats and remember them later.

But the new conversation memory is a much bigger upgrade and another building block towards ChatGPT becoming a personal AI assistant. I’m dreaming of a personal AI chatbot that would remember things about me to make all interactions easier.

But, just as OpenAI announced that conversation memory is rolling out widely, I have one big reason to worry about it: Privacy.

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I already explained how to use the memory feature in ChatGPT back in February when OpenAI started testing it. I’m a ChatGPT Plus user, but I didn’t get access to it at the time. It now makes sense, as OpenAI isn’t bringing the feature to Europe, where I’m based.

You’ve explained that you prefer meeting notes to have headlines, bullets and action items summarized at the bottom. ChatGPT remembers this and recaps meetings this way. You’ve told ChatGPT you own a neighborhood coffee shop. When brainstorming messaging for a social post celebrating a new location, ChatGPT knows where to start. You mention that you have a toddler and that she loves jellyfish. When you ask ChatGPT to help create her birthday card, it suggests a jellyfish wearing a party hat. As a kindergarten teacher with 25 students, you prefer 50-minute lessons with follow-up activities. ChatGPT remembers this when helping you create lesson plans.

This is a great start, of course, and things will evolve from there. Both when it comes to what ChatGPT can remember, and how you teach it things about you.

You can remove any memory that ChatGPT remembers about you.

Update: Memory is now available to all ChatGPT Plus users except those in Europe or Korea. Based on feedback from our earlier test, ChatGPT now lets you know when memories are updated. We’ve also made it easier to access all memories when updates occur—hover over “Memory updated,” then click “Manage memories” to review everything ChatGPT has picked up from your conversations and forget any unwanted memories. You can still access memories at any time in settings.

The same update says that paying ChatGPT subscribers from Europe and Korea will not get the memory feature. There’s no explanation for it, but the privacy aspect is the only one that makes sense to me right now.

Memory brings additional privacy and safety considerations, such as what type of information should be remembered and how it’s used. We’re taking steps to assess and mitigate biases, and steer ChatGPT away from proactively remembering sensitive information, like your health details – unless you explicitly ask it to.

This is still not detailed enough for my taste. I am a ChatGPT Plus user who wouldn’t mind having the chatbot remember things about me. It’s the only way we’ll get to personal AI. But I want to know exactly what happens to my data after that. I don’t want ChatGPT to use my memories, whether superficial or sensitive, for training.

As with any ChatGPT feature, you’re in control of your organization’s data. Memories and any other information on your workspace are excluded from training our models. Users have control on how and when their memories are used in chats. In addition, Enterprise account owners can turn memory off for their organization at any time.

I hope the same protections will come to ChatGPT Plus users who want to take advantage of the memory features.

Put differently, I wouldn’t rely too much on the memory feature just yet, even if it were available to me in Europe. Instead, I’d wait for more updates from OpenAI on how my data is handled.

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Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

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write a feature story about your family

IMAGES

  1. 19 Writing Family Stories

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  2. 3 stories about 3 families

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  3. Homeschool Writing Project: The Holidays are the Perfect Time to Write

    write a feature story about your family

  4. How To Write A Story About My Family

    write a feature story about your family

  5. How To Write A Story About My Family

    write a feature story about your family

  6. 27 Writing Feature Stories

    write a feature story about your family

VIDEO

  1. Help me write Feature in Gmail

  2. How to Write Your Family’s Social History

  3. The Family Story

  4. Google gmail update Help me Write feature #helpmewrite #googleupdate #ai #trending #gmailupdate

  5. Ralph Macchio hasn’t aged in 30 years⁉️😳

  6. Family Storytelling: History Close to home

COMMENTS

  1. How To Write A Feature Story: Step-By-Step

    Steps For Writing A Feature Writing. Now we covered some of the main types, let's take a look at the steps you should take when planning to write a feature article. 1. Evaluate Your Story Ideas. It sounds obvious, but the first step on the path to a good feature article is to have a strong idea.

  2. How to Write Your Personal and Family Story (Complete Guide)

    Some individuals prefer to pick topics or life stages and answer predetermined questions from each stage of life to help prompt them through. Return to list of topics for Complete Guide for Guide to Writing A Personal Narrative. 2. Use the "Mapping" Technique for Narrative Outlines.

  3. 18 Writing Tips: Tell Family Stories with Confidence

    8. Use Memory Triggers. Photos, keepsakes, clothing, and other objects can be wonderful memory triggers. Look through photo albums at relatives' homes and see what stories come to mind. Then add them to your list of stories to tell. Plan a visit to a neighborhood or city where you once lived.

  4. 7 examples of engaging feature stories

    A feature story is a piece of longform non-fiction content that covers a single topic in detail. Examples of feature stories include news features, in-depth profiles, human interest stories, science communication, data storytelling, and more. Feature stories are a common type of content for news organisations, particularly those who invest in ...

  5. How to Write a Feature Article: Crafting Captivating Stories

    Here's a brief overview of 10 different types of feature stories you can write for your audience. 1. Human Interest Stories. A human interest story centers on individuals or groups, focusing on personal achievements, dramatic events, or everyday life struggles. The goal here is to evoke emotion from readers and create an engaging narrative ...

  6. 3 Ways to Write About Your Family

    2. Create a first draft. When you write about your family, use the present tense and write in short, clear sentences. Identify all of your family members by name and discuss where your family members live. Use "brother, sister, mother, father, uncle, aunt, cousin, etc" to identify your family members.

  7. 4 Tips To Write About Family in Fiction

    3. Lean Into the Emotion. For better or for worse, relatives can have a way of eliciting strong emotions in an individual. Dig deep into what your main character feels toward each person in their family, and don't be afraid to explore conflicting or contradictory emotions.

  8. Writing Memoir About Your Family

    If you've considered writing your story, a story based on your family, your past, or your experiences, you are not alone. Most of us have a personal story we'd like to tell, including me ...

  9. 5 Tips for Writing a Captivating Feature Article

    5 Tips for Writing a Captivating Feature Article. Written by MasterClass. Last updated: Nov 24, 2021 • 3 min read. A feature article blends hard facts with rigorously sourced details to paint a thorough picture and give a complete story. Learn how to write a feature story with these tips.

  10. How to tell family stories : Life Kit : NPR

    Explore Life Kit. This story comes from Life Kit, NPR's podcast to help make life better — covering everything from exercise to raising kids to making friends. For more, sign up for the ...

  11. How to Write a Memoir About Your Family

    Generally speaking, family members make poor editors. When you ask a family member to critique your work, it usually goes one of two ways: 1) They tell you what they think you want to hear because they don't want to hurt your feelings and they want to be supportive. 2) They have a negative emotional response and may tell you that your memoir is ...

  12. How to Write Your Family Story

    In memoir, the only thing you need to worry about is your reality. In writing your family story, you want to consider how other people perceived the reality and then write the events of a scene without assigning blame or delving into a one-sided perspective. Aim to be an omniscient narrator.

  13. How to Write About Family in a Memoir

    Forgiveness. Hold these words in your mind as you write about your family. Allow them to pulse through the pages of your memoir. Know that you can't presuppose how your family members will react to your writing about them, but if you keep these precepts in mind, you will reduce your chances of hurting or angering them.

  14. 9 Writing Prompts for Your Family History Stories

    While a census record will tell you about their living situation, employment and household relationships. 2. Family photos. "A picture is worth a thousand words," or so the saying goes. And when it comes to family history stories, that's true. Photos are your window into the past.

  15. Storyworth

    Storyworth makes it easy and fun to write your memoir, with one inspiring story prompt each week. Step 01. Once a week, we send you questions you've never thought to write about. Step 02. You write a story each week, optionally shared with family. Step 03. A year's worth of stories are bound into a beautiful keepsake book.

  16. About my family

    Let me tell you about my family. I live with my mum, my dad and my big sister. We live in California. My mum's name is Carmen. She's Mexican and she speaks English and Spanish. She's a Spanish teacher. She's short and slim, she's got long, brown hair and brown eyes. My dad's name is David. He's American.

  17. 19 Writing Family Stories

    Writing a Family Story. Have students read the eight subject areas under "Read and Remember" and think of family stories that relate to one of the areas. Have them choose their stories and list details, such as the people, place, actions, and dialogue. When students are ready to start writing, lead them through the tips for creating a beginning ...

  18. Choosing the Right Format When Writing Your Family History

    To write a memoir about your family history, you, the writer, would write an account of your family history and the members of your family. You could also consider writing about an important event as it relates to your family from your own memories, interpretations, experiences, and your conducted research. While some people choose to interview ...

  19. Places to Look for Engaging Details about Your Ancestors

    Hedgecock mentioned the Library of Science, the British Museum, and the Library of Congress. Blogs: According to Hedgecock there are well over 3,000 blogs providing helpful genealogical information. Have a look at the website geneabloggerstribe.com. After you've gathered enough information to build up the context of your ancestor's life ...

  20. The Non-Writers Writing Guide to Write Your Family History

    1. Say it out loud. Skip the writing step and tell yourself the story while using a voice-to-text app to record it. You want to feel comfortable while talking and for the story to come out naturally. So, if it feels a bit weird talking to yourself, then tell the account to a relative, pet or even your favourite plant.

  21. 9 Tips for Getting Started on Writing Your Family History

    6. Seek Out Help. Look for writers' groups and classes in your community. From online groups to friends and family members, having a community you can rely on for feedback and encouragement is essential. Reaching out can also lead to new research finds, important for sourcing the details in your stories.

  22. How To Tell A Short Story About Yourself: Tips And Tricks

    Start with a question or a surprising statement that'll pique your audience's curiosity. Set the scene by describing the setting and the characters involved in your story. Use sensory details to paint a vivid picture in your audience's mind. Show, don't tell. Use dialogue and action to draw your audience into the story.

  23. Short Stories About Family & Family Relationships

    In future New York, the extended Schwartz family live together in an apartment suite. A tonic that stops aging, anti-gerasone, has stopped death from old age leading to overpopulation. The family patriarch, Gramps, is 172 years old. He's the only one with his own room, and he gets the best food and chair.

  24. 30 Mother's Day quotes and greetings to celebrate a mom in your life

    "A mother is your first friend, your best friend, your forever friend." - Amit Kalantri, "Wealth of Words" "Mother's love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved." - Erich Fromm

  25. 'Young Sheldon': George's death to complete 'Big Bang Theory' revision

    Spoiler alert: This story includes details of the May 9 penultimate "Young Sheldon" episode. You can't say you didn't see George Cooper Sr.'s death coming after seven seasons of "Young Sheldon ...

  26. Create a Family Tree With Your Kids: An Exciting Way to Teach ...

    TEACH YOUR KIDS ABOUT THEIR HISTORY WITH A FAMILY TREE PROJECT GATHER ALL THE INFORMATION. Begin your family tree project by making a list of all the relatives you want to feature on your family tree.

  27. Here's Exactly What to Write in Your Graduation Card to ...

    Today is just one of life's many sweet victories. Be sure to stop, and savor this incredible moment! Make a difference. Live the dream. Relish the adventure.

  28. Post wins 3 Pulitzers, including for abortion coverage, feature writing

    Eli Saslow, 40, was awarded the Pulitzer for feature writing for stories that depicted the fissures of post-pandemic America. In one story, Saslow introduced readers to an eager teacher arriving ...

  29. ChatGPT Plus memory feature is rolling out almost everywhere

    OpenAI announced a big upgrade for ChatGPT a few months ago. The chatbot would be able to retain memories from your conversations with it. This happens in two ways: You can tell ChatGPT to ...

  30. 5 Books To Help You Become A Better Leader In 2024

    Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own. I write about topics that will help companies grow and learn. U.S. News and The Harris Poll teamed up in November 2023 to determine the ...