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What Makes a Personal History or Life Story Highlight Salable as a Play or Skit?

What Makes a Personal History or Life Story Highlight Salable as a Play or Skit?


Q. What makes a life story salable?

Buzz appeal…High velocity personal memoir… A life story is salable when it has universal appeal and identity. An example is a single parent making great sacrifices to put bread on the table and raise a decent family in hard times.

Many people identify with the universal theme of a life story. Buzz appeal draws in the deep interest of the press to publicize and lend credibility to a life story, to put a spin on it in the media, and to sell it to the public because all readers may be able to see themselves in your life story.


Q. To whom do you sell your life story to?

You sell your life story to publishers specializing in life stories. If you look under biographies in a book such as Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents, 1999-2000, by Jeff Herman, Prima Publishing, you'll see several pages of publishers of life story, biography, and memoirs or autobiography.


A few include The Anonymous Press, Andrews McMeel Publishing, Applause Theatre Book Publishers, Barricade Books, Inc., Baskerville Publishers, and many more listed in that directory. Also take a look at Writers Market, Writers Digest Books, checkout Memoirs in the index. Publishers include Feminist Press, Hachai, Hollis, Narwhal, Northeastern University Press, Puppy House, Westminster, John Knox,and others.

Check categories such as creative nonfiction, biography, ethnic, historical, multicultural and other categories for lists of publishers in your genre. Don't overlook writing your life story as a play, monologue, or script or for the audio book market.


Q. How do you present your life story in order to turn it into a saleable book, article, play, or other type of literature so that other people will want to read it?

You write a high-velocity powerful personal memoir or autonomedia which emphasizes cultural criticism and theory. Or you write a factual expose, keep a journal on the current cultural pulse, or write a diary about what it feels like to be single and dating in your age group--thirty something, sixty-something, or whatever you choose. You become an investigative biographer. You write a riveting love story, or how to use love to heal. Perhaps you write about breaking through old barriers to create new publishing frontiers.


Q. How do you write a commercial biography?

Make sure someone wants to buy it before you write the whole thing. The details will be forthcoming in the course as it begins. Then contact the press, reporters in the media with credibility who write for a national daily newspaper or reputable magazine. Also contact radio and cable TV stations to do interviews on a selected event in your life story or biography. Pick a niche market where the particular audience has a special interest in that experience.


Q. What’s the difference between authorized and unauthorized?

Authorized means you have permission and approval from the person about whom you're writing. Unauthorized means you gather information from relatives and friends or others who have researched verifiable facts about the person, but the person about whom you’re writing has not given you permission to write his or her biography.


Q. Who gets assigned to write biographies of celebrities or other famous people?

Usually newspaper columnists who cover the beat or subject area, or you're a known writer who contacts an agent specializing in writing or ghostwriting celebrity biographies. You can enter this profession from a variety of doors and wear many hats.


Personal historians, librarians, teachers, reporters, documentarians, videographers, novelists, politicians, researchers, scientists, entertainment personnel, and biographers as well as experts in psychology, law enforcement, or military service can research and write biographies of famous people. Many well-known freelance writers are hired by the agents of celebrities to write or ghost-write biographies and autobiographies.


Writing Your Ending First Gives You Closure And Clues How To Solve The Problems In Your Life Story. Teaching Life Story Writing On The Internet


When you write a salable life story, it's easier to write your ending first. Eventually, with experience working with a variety of life stories, you can start quality circles or classes in life story writing (writing your salable memoirs, autobiography, biography, corporate history, family history, your diary as a commercial novel or play or true confession, true story, or true crime book or story or script).


Also, you can teach life story writing, interviewing, or videobiography on the Internet for yourself or for an existing school or program. It's relaxing and comforting to sit at home in perfect quiet and type a lecture into a screen browser such as the courses that can be offered through information you can check out at Blackboard Inc. - Official Site and other programs. Or teach online using a live chat screen. Customize your course to the needs of your students.


You may need certification or a graduate degree to teach for a university online, but there's also adult education classes given in nontraditional settings such as churches, libraries, and museums.


Online, you can offer independent classes and go into business for yourself as a personal historian. Another way is to offer time capsules, keepsake albums, gift baskets, greeting cards, life stories on video, DVD, or transcribed from oral history. Work with libraries, museums, or your own independent classes.


You can work at home or be mobile and travel to other people's homes or senior centers and assisted living recreation rooms, community centers, or schools and theaters to work with life stories. Some companies have put life-story recording kiosks in public places such as train stations or airports. Check out the StoryCorps site.


Find your own mission or purpose and create your own business recording the life stories of a variety of people in video, sound, text, or multimedia formats. It's all part of the time-capsule generation that emphasizes your life story has value and needs to be preserved as part of history.


The revelation is that your life story isn't only for your family and friends anymore. As part of history, the world can now experience the one universal that connects us--life, and within a life story--insight, foresight, and hindsight.


Diaries of senior citizens are in demand. To sell them, you need buzz appeal, visibility in the press for writing simple stories of how you struggled to put bread on the table and raised a family alone, or what you've learned from your mistakes or experiences, how you solved problems, gave yourself more choices, grew, and came to understand why you were transformed. People are looking for universal experiences to help them make decisions.


Start by finding a newspaper reporter from a publication that is well-respected by the public, and have that person write about your life story experience or what you do with other peoples' life stories as a personal historian. That's the first step to introducing a 'salable' life story.


The technique differs from writing a life story like a first-person diary novel for only your family and/or friends. With a 'salable' life story, you write about the universal experiences that connect all of us. If readers or viewers can identify with what you have to say, your words open doors for them to make decisions and choices by digesting your information.


The Proliferation of Playwriting Courses Online Targets Writing Your Life Story


The sheer number of classes on the Internet is like an explosion of education. You can now earn a masters degree in the techniques of teaching online from universities such as the California State University at Hayward in their continuing education department. What I see happening is that according to display ads in a variety of magazines of interest to writers, a proliferation of writing courses online has broken out.


How do you develop buzz appeal, pre-sell your book, create press coverage of their writing, all before you send it to a publisher or agent? A few years ago diaries were "in" just like several years before that the books about angels were "in style." What will be next?


Back in the year 2000, what enthralled readers included simple stories on how single parents put bread on the table, reared a family, and learned from their mistakes. What will be big in the future in publishing will be simple tales of what you learned. Details would include how you (or your client) came to understand, and what you'll share with readers.


The theme of a memoirs gift book is about what your client learned from past mistakes. The book would be about what significant events and facts helped your client to grow and become a better person making the world a gentler place.


Those life stories in demand by the public that go beyond coffee-table gift books for relatives and friends also include values, virtues, and ethics in simple stories that help people heal. Universal stories with which we all can identify and use to solve problems and make decisions are salable.


Confirm with your client if you’re ghostwriting a book for sale to the public for a flat fee, or whether you’re doing work for hire for a flat fee with all publishing rights on a book that you can sell to the public. Or are you signing a contract to write, edit, and publish a few copies of a private book that you can’t sell publicly, but the client can buy copies from you and sell himself to relatives, friends, or business employees. Discern whether the book actually is an infomercial presented as a case history success story to promote a business or product.


Gift books destined for the self help and inspirational markets or the “mind-body-spirit” markets that are based on people’s life stories, generally show readers how to have more choices


These gift books of information and photos show people how one person found alternative solutions, possibilities, and explored avenues of information with which to solve problems and make decisions. A lot of those books come from salable diaries and life stories as well as corporate and executive histories.


What sold widely by 2002 emphasized how people escaped domestic violence, by becoming financially self-sufficient. Methods of solving problems included looking creatively at more possibilities and alternatives. By 2003-2004 books focused on creativity enhancement and self-expression.


The year 2003 became a utopia for discussing decisions chosen in various self-help diaries or personal history novels, and journals on creativity enhancement through life stories. You only have to look at the book lists in the publisher’s magazines to see what the fad genre is for any one year and interview publishing professionals for the trends and directions for the following year.


Write about the human side of careers worked at for years. What did you retire to? How did you survive historic events, rear your family, or solve problems?


The purpose of personal history writing can be, among other goals, to find closure. Those who can’t use a hand-operated mouse and need to use a foot pedal mouse, breath straw, or other devices can still operate computers. Others need assistance software to magnify the screen or audio software such as “Jaws,” to hear as they type on keyboards.


The idea is to use personal history and life story writing as a healing instrument to make contact with others, find this closure, relieve stress, to talk to parents long gone, to make decisions on how to grow, find understanding, learn from past mistakes, grow, and become a better person in one's own eyes.


Other students take a personal history, oral history, or life story writing classes to pass on to their grandchildren a script, a novel, a story, or a collage of their life experiences, and still others want corporate histories of how they founded their companies and became role models of success for business students to simulate, how they became successful giants for others to follow and benchmark.


Still other students are visionaries who want their life stories to be used to enhance the creativity of readers. Some of my students want to write their life story as a computer or board game on how they solved their own problems that are universal to all of us. And you have students who want careers as personal historians recording, transcribing, and preserving in a variety of formats the personal histories of individuals, families, corporations, art forms, and institutions.


Some are into conservation of videos, photographs, text material, tape recordings, CDs, DVDs, and other multimedia formats. All are involved in making time capsules for future researchers, historians, scholars, librarians, genealogists, and specialists who research personal and oral history or specialized history, such as music and art or rare books and manuscripts.


Writing time capsules


Others are collectors. Most want a time capsule of a relative, complete with not only a relative’s keepsake albums or video diary, but sometimes even a DNA printout for ancestry. If you look in many publications of interest to writers, you might see online or correspondence courses offered to writers at American College of Journalism, Burlington College, Columbus University, specialists in distance education, or at Gotham Writers' Workshops at www.WritingClasses.com.


There's Writers Digest School, and data bases where you can learn about agents at Agent Research & Evaluation. Check out the site, Matchmakers for Writers. The goal is matching writers with literary agents who may be interested in the type of writing the particular author has.


At Agent Research its job is to direct you to the literary agent who is right for your work at this stage in your career, whether you're writing your twentieth book or your first, says its website


These are some of the online classes in writing advertised. You’ll also see ads for classes in personal story writing in some of these publications.


You can get paid to teach what you love to do so much--share your writing techniques and write. Some writing schools online may put articles up on their trade journal online. And you can always sell articles to paying markets and use the clips with resumes. Thanks to the Internet--even a disabled teacher who isn't able to speak before a class for health reasons or drive to class, can teach and write online.


Personal history writing/journalism/biography/autobiography

Personal history writing courses could also aim to show research on how creative writing can heal or have therapeutic qualities in gentle self-expression and quality circles online, and now I've found students who learn how to write a life story as therapy to heal and to find closure, solve problems, and to explore more choices, alternatives, and growth towards a kinder and gentler world.


You can focus strictly on recording, transcribing, and archiving people’s or corporation’s personal or oral histories and preserving them in a variety of formats as time capsules or target the more creative end of teaching writing personal histories as books, plays, or skits. In other words, you can be both a personal historian and a writing coach or focus on either career or business—oral and personal historian, or teacher of courses or “quality circles” in writing autobiographies and biographies for commercial markets.


You can start private classes on a mailing list and chat board. A fair price to charge could be about $80 per student for advanced workshops in writing salable material for 4-week courses with a 10-page critique per student. You can update or downplay the charge as the times and market change.


Your aim would be to be an online job coach in a writing or personal history career. Help students find ways to get into print by referring you them to resources. Show how to make writing more commercial. Reveal the techniques of effective story writing in your true story, biography, memoirs, autobiography, diary, journal, novel, story, play, or article.

A lot of biography writing is focused on interviews, whereas writing a diary or monologue focuses on inner reflections and expressions in explaining how you came to understand, learn from your past mistakes or experiences and good choices, and share how you solved problems, grew, and changed or were transformed.


Enriching the writing outcome


Personal diaries start out with poetic-like descriptions of the senses, with lines such as "Cat shadow plump I arrive, carrying my Siamese kitten like a rifle through Spokane, while the only sensation I feel is my hair stretched like flaxen wires where my new kitten, Patches, hangs on."


A gentle clock, the red beams of light reflected in his blue eyes remind me that my tattered self also must eat. His claws dig into my purse strap like golden flowers curling in unshaven armpits. I inhale his purrs like garlic, warm as the pap mom cat, Rada-Ring flowed into Patches nine weeks ago."


Have an enriching writing experience. I truly believe writing heals in some ways. It's a transformative experience like meditation or having the comforting feeling of watching a waterfall in natural settings or sitting in a garden of hanging green plants. Writing recharges my energy must like petting my kitten, Kokowellen, a Siamese while sitting my orchid garden listening to soothing melodies.


You might want to critique or manuscript-coach-edit for pay, the pages of other people’s writing of personal histories if they want to write for the commercial markets. In that case, critiquing may be done by email and online


That way they don't send any hard copy to mail back or get lost. You always keep a copy. However, I recommend teaching online a course with the critique, as you'll get far more for your $80 for each ten pages of critiquing as a fair price, plus the tuition of the course as perhaps another $80.


The course provides resources, techniques, and ways to revise your material that helps you gain visibility. It's important to pre-sell your book and gain publicity for your writing before you send it off to a publisher or agent. You'll want to know how not to give too much away, but how to attract positive attention so people will eagerly look forward to hearing more from you.


Keep a separate mailing list for your online students. Plays or monologues written from memoirs and diaries or excerpts and highlights of life stories are in right now in the publishing world. It's not a passed fad, yet, like the angel books were a decade ago. If you're writing a diary, you want to write something in your first or second page after the opening that goes like this to be more commercial:


Eagerness to learn grows on me. I see it reflected in the interviewers who stare at me, their enthusiasm is an approval of my expansive mind. I read so much now, just to look at the pages is to feel nourished. A kind of poetry turns into children’s books on DVDs like a stalk that grows no where else is in season.


Creativity, like color, runs off my keyboard into the cooking water of my screen, drenched in pungent brainstorming. Writing online puts me in every farmer's kitchen. My computer has a good scent, and the stories written on its screen are apples bursting on the trees of my fingers. On my Web site, photos hang like lanterns. Teaching online ripens my stories. I analyze what effective storytelling means. Picture the colorful pagodas of the mind in three dimensions with musical wind chimes and gentle palm-latitude breezes.


If you come across writers block, try writing the lyrics to a song as a way to start writing your life story. You don't need to read notes, just fiddle with the words based upon an experience in time. Start by writing the ending first. Perhaps your title on salable diaries could be, "Pretty Little Secret," or "Ending the Silence," or "Results of Promises," or "Guided by a Child's Silence," or "Unraveling a Tale," or "Bravery and Unspeakable Links," or "Unveiled, Unbridled, Unbound." This author's title was "Insight, Hindsight, Foresight."




Week Three:

Using Slogans to Stimulate Memory from Memoirs

Celebration of Life Coffee-Table Books, Plays, Monologues, or Skits Based on Interviewing and Recording Significant Events and Turning Points:


How to Motivate People to Interview One Another for Personal History Productions

Use slogans or mottos to help people describe what their life story is basically about in theme. Nearly everyone can think of a slogan or motto that describes their life purpose or what they stand for. This slogan breaks the ice to begin answering questions that will form the basis of a life story or memoir.


People are "less camera shy" when two from the same peer group or class pair up and interview each other on video camcorder or on audio tape from a list of questions rehearsed. People also can write the questions they want to be asked and also write out and familiarize themselves with the answers alone and/or with their interviewers from their own peer group.


Some people have their favorite proverbs, or a logo that represents their outlook on life


Others have their own 'crusade' or mission. And some have a slogan that says what they are about in a few words...example, "seeking the joy of life," or "service with a smile."

Gift books destined for coffee tables can be a life story narration with photos on the left side and text on the right side.


The reason is that most people’s eyes immediately travel to the right side or page of a book for text and to the left side for photos. (The right hemisphere of the brain controls the left eye and is wired for visuals.

The left hemisphere of the brain controls the right eye and right side of the body and is wired for verbal tasks such as reading or speaking in words. Left-handed people may work opposite.)


Memoir books or life story plays may come from someone's slogan, for example. A slogan, logo, proverb, or motto can form the foundation for a questionnaire on what they want to say in an oral history or personal history video or audio tape on in a multimedia presentation of their life story highlights.


Here are some ways to interview people for personal history time capsules or how to inspire them to interview one another in a group setting or in front of a video camcorder in private with only interviewer and interviewee present


There are individuals who want to tape themselves alone in their room or office with a camcorder on a tripod and a remote control device or a tape recorder and photographs. When records stop, there are always the DNA-driven genealogy and ancestry printouts.

Some people enjoy writing their life stories more than they like to speak about it. Or they prefer to read from a script as an audio tape.


For those whose voices are impaired or for those who prefer to let a synthetic software voice tell their story, one software program for text-to-speech is TextAloud. There are many others. Windows 8 and 8.1 have built in selections for text-to-speech. And software such as Dragon Systems specializes in speech-to-text.


Choose software that allows anyone to cut and paste their writing from a disk such as a floppy disk, CD, DVD, or hard drive disk to the TextAloud software and select the type of voice to read their writing. With AT&T Natural Voices, you can select a male or female voice.


In TextAloud, text-to-speech software, for example, there are also voices with accents, such as a British accent male voice, and voice software available in a variety of languages to read writing in other languages. TextAloud is made by Nextup.com. According to their Web site, “TextAloud MP3 is Text-to-Speech software that uses voice synthesis to create spoken audio from text. You can listen on your PC or save text to MP3 or wave files for listening later.” I play the MP3 files on my MP3 player.


You could save the files to a CD as MP3 files. In this way, you can turn your writing into audio books, pamphlets, or articles, poetry, plays, monologues, skits, or any form of writing read aloud by the synthetic software voice software. You might save your audio files as MP3 files so you can play your personal history audio in an MP3 player on in a personal computer. MP3 files are condensed and take up a lot less room in your computer or on a Web site or CD and DVD disk than an audio .wav file.


For people who are creating “celebration of life” oral or personal history audio tapes, it works well especially for those who prefer not to read their own writing aloud to a digital recorder


Although most people would like to hear their relatives’ voices on tape in audio and video, some people are not able to read their works aloud to a recorder or camcorder. The synthetic voices will turn any type of writing saved on a disk as a text file into recorded voice—from short poetry to long-length books. The voices are usually recorded with Total Recorder software and saved as an MP3 file so they can be played on MP3 players or on most computers with CD players.


For those taping persons live in video to make time capsules or other keepsake albums in voice and/or video, it’s best to let people think what they are going to say by handing them a list of a few questions. If you’re working with a group of older adults, let one of the group members interview another group member by asking each question from a list of several questions.


You might give someone a week’s notice to come up with an answer to each question from a list of ten questions and give them two minutes to respond to each question by discussing how it relates to events in their lives or their experiences, you have a twenty minute video tape.


If you allow only a minute for each question from a list of thirty questions, you have a thirty-minute tape. Times may not be exact as people tend to elaborate to flesh out a question. Let the interview and interviewee practice before recording. So it’s good to pair up two people. One will ask the interview questions, and the other will answer, talking about turning points and significant events in their lives.


People you interview can be asked whether they have a personal proverb or slogan they live by or a motto or personal logo. Tapes can be anywhere from a half hour to an hour for life stories that can be saved as an MP3 file to a CD. Other files such as a Wave file (.wav) take up too much space on a CD. So they could be condensed into an MP3 file and saved that way. TextAloud and Total Recorder are software programs that save audio files. There also is a way to use your software to change .wav files to MP3 files to store on your mobile devices.


You also could use software such as TextAloud software and Total Recorder or later and other versions of various types of speech to text and text to speech software. Also you might save the files as MP3 files for an audio CD that will also go up on a Web site. You could use Windows Media Player to play the video files and save them as a Windows Media file (WMV file) so they can be easily uploaded to a Web site and still play in Windows Media Player.


There also are flash drives available that record sound, with the ability to record voices, music, and various sounds, as you interview by audio. Or record with a video camera and have both audio and video versions available as podcasts, saved on disks, or video uploads to sites that take oral histories. Check out the material at Internet Archive, for example and in various oral history libraries.


You may wish to see at Internet Archive some of my talks, such as, "How to Interpret DNA-Driven Genealogy Reports," or  Personal History Careers." That talk also is listed under the title: So You Want to Be A Personal Historian.


There's also software programs such as Dragon Systems to record your speech into your computer and save and print out what you say into your computer microphone or headset as text. It's one way to write a book or article without having to type fast.

When making time capsules in multimedia, you could save on a CD, flash drive, external drive, and/or a DVD, and upload the file from my hard disk to a Web site. Copies of the CDs can be given to relatives, the interviewee, museums, libraries, and various schools who may be interested in oral history with a theme.


The themes can be celebrations of life, living time capsules, or fit into any group theme under an umbrella title that holds them together. This can be an era, such as living memories of a particular decade, life experiences in oral history of an area in geography, an ethnic group, or any other heading. Or the tapes can be of individuals or family groups.


Not only life stories, but poetry, plays, novels, stories, and any other form of creative nonfiction or fiction writing can be recorded by synthetic voices as audio story or book collections. Some work well as children’s stories and other types of writings as life stories or poetry.


Themes can vary from keepsake albums to time capsules to collections of turning points in history from the life stories of individuals. Also, themes can be recorded as “old time radio” programs or as oral military history from the experiences of veterans and notated to the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress or other groups and museums. Make sure you have signed release forms that also release you from liability should any problems arise from putting someone’s life story and name on the Web and/or donating it to a library or other public archive.


A good example of a release form is the one posted at the Veteran’s History Project Web site where life stories of veterans are donated to the Library of Congress and accessible to the public for educational or scholarly research. Check out the .PDF release forms for both the interviewer and the interviewee at their Web site. The release form for veterans is at the Veterans Release Form website.


Before Video Recording Life Stories of Older Adults for Memory Retention Practice : Questions to Ask

Interviewing for Writing Plays and Skits from Life Stories for Junior and Senior High-School Students and/or Mature Adults.


STEP 1: Send someone enthusiastic about personal and oral history to senior community centers, lifelong learning programs at universities, nursing homes, or senior apartment complexes activity rooms. You can reach out to a wide variety of older adults in many settings, including at libraries, church groups, hobby and professional or trade associations, unions, retirement resorts, public transportation centers, malls, museums, art galleries, genealogy clubs, and intergenerational social centers.


STEP 2: Have each personal historian or volunteer bring a tape recorder with tape and a note pad. Bring camcorders for recording video to turn into time capsules and CDs or DVDs with life stories, personal history experiences, memoirs, and events highlighting turning points or special times in people’s lives.


STEP 3: Assign each personal historian one or two older persons to interview with the following questions.


1. What were the most significant turning points or events in your life?

2. How did you survive the Wars?

3. What were the highlights, turning points, or significant events that you experienced during the economic downturn of 1929-1939? How did you cope or solve your problems?

4. What did you do to solve your problems during the significant stages of your life at age 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70-plus? Or pick a year that you want to talk about.

5. What changes in your life do you want to remember and pass on to future generations?

6. What was the highlight of your life?

7. How is it best to live your life after 70?

8. What years do you remember most?

9. What was your favorite stage of life?

10. What would you like people to remember about you and the times you lived through?


Have the student record the older person's answers. Select the most significant events, experiences, or turning points the person chooses to emphasize. Then write the story of that significant event in ten pages or less.


STEP 4: Ask the older person to supply the younger student photos, art work, audio tapes, or video clips. Usually photos, pressed flowers, or art work will be supplied. Have the student or teacher scan the photos onto a disk and return the original photos or art work or music to the owner.


STEP 5: The personal historian, volunteer, student and/or teacher scans the photos and puts them onto a Web site on the Internet at one of the free communities that give away Web site to the public at no cost. Most search engines will give a list of communities at offering free Web sites to the public. The free Web sites are limited in space.

For larger Web site spaces with room for audio and video material and other keepsake memorabilia, purchase a personal Web site from a Web-hosting company. Shop around for affordable Web site space for a multimedia life story time capsule that would include text, video and/or audio clips, music, art, photos, and any other effects.


1. Create a Web site with text from the older person's significant life events.

2. Add photos.

3. Add sound or .wav files with the voice of the older person speaking in small clips or sound bites.

4. Intersperse text and photos or art work with sound, if available.

Add video clips, if available and won't take too much bandwidth.

5. Put Web site on line as TIME CAPSULE of (insert name of person) interviewed and edited by, insert name of student who interviewed older person.


STEP 6: Label each Web site Time Capsule and collect them in a history archives on the lives of older adults at the turn of the millennium. Make sure the older person and all relatives and friends are emailed the Web site link. You have now created a time capsule for future generations.


This can be used as a classroom exercise in elementary and high schools to teach the following:


  1. Making friends with older adults.
  2. Learning to write on intergenerational topics.
  3. Bringing community together of all generations.
  4. Learning about foster grandparents.
  5. History lessons from those who lived through history.
  6. Learning about diversity and how people of diverse origins lived through the 20th century.
  7. Preserving the significant events in the lives of people as time capsules for future generations to know what it was like to live between 1900 and 2000 at any age.
  8. Learning to write skits and plays from the life stories of older adults taken down by young students.
  9. Teaching older adults skills in creative writing at senior centers.
  10. Learning what grandma did during World War 2 or the stock market crash of 1929 followed by the economic downturn of 1930-1938.

What to Ask People about Their Lives before You Write a Play or Skit


Step 1

When you interview, ask for facts and concrete details. Look for statistics, and research whether statistics are deceptive in your case.


Step 2

To write a plan, write one sentence for each topic that moves the story or piece forward. Then summarize for each topic in a paragraph. Use dialogue at least in every third paragraph.


Step 3

Look for the following facts or headings to organize your plan for a biography or life story.


1. PROVERB: Ask the people you interview what proverb represents their life stories.

Look at a book of proverbs, but develop an original proverb not copyrighted or cliché. Proverbs can be found in libraries or even on tee shirts and bumper stickers. Create your own as you work with your client.


2. PURPOSE, MOTTO, OR SLOGAN: Ask the people you interview or a biography, for what purpose is or was their journey? Is or was it equality in the workplace or something personal and different such as dealing with change--downsizing, working after retirement, or anything else? If your client had to create/invent a slogan or aspiration that fit that person, what would it be? One slogan might be something like the seventies ad for cigarettes, "We've come a long way, baby," to signify ambition achieved. Look for an original slogan, not a copyrighted slogan or a cliché.


3. IMPRINT: Ask what makes an imprint or impact on people's lives and what impact the people you're interviewing want to make on others?


4. STATISTICS: How deceptive are they? How can you use them to focus on reality?

5. How have the people that you're interviewing influenced changes in the way people or corporations function? How does your client share meaning (communicate) with others?

6. What is your client’s goal in life? To what is the person aspiring?

7. What kind of communication skills does the person have and how are these skills received? Are the communication skills male or female, thinking or feeling, yin or yang, soft or steeled, and are people around these people negative or positive about those communication skills?

8. What new styles is the person using? What kind of motivational methods, structure, or leadership? Is the person a follower or leader? How does the person match his or her personality to the character of a corporation or interest?

9. How does the person handle change?

10. How is the person reinforced?


Once you have titles and summarized paragraphs for each segment of your story, you can more easily flesh out the story by adding dialogue and description to your factual information. Look for differences in style between the people you interview? How does the person want to be remembered?


Is the person a risk taker or cautious for survival? Does the person identify with her job or the people involved in the process of doing the work most creatively or originally?

Does creative expression take precedence over processes of getting work out to the right place at the right time? Does the person want his ashes to spell the words “re-invent yourself” where the sea meets the shore? This is a popular concept appearing in various media.


Search the Records in the Family History Library of Salt Lake City, Utah


Make use of the database online at the Family History Library of Salt Lake City, Utah. Or visit the branches in many locations. The Family History Library (FHL) is known worldwide as the focal point of family history records preservation.


The FHL collection contains more than 2.2 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records, 742,000 microfiche, 300,000 books, and 4,500 periodicals that represent data collected from over 105 countries. You don’t have to be a member of any particular church or faith to use the library or to go online and search the records.


Family history records owe a lot to the invention of writing. And then there is oral history, but someone needs to transcribe oral history to record and archive them for the future


Interestingly, isn't it a coincidence that writing is 6,000 years old and DNA that existed 6,000 years ago first reached such crowded conditions in the very cities that had first used writing extensively to measure accounting and trade had very little recourse but to move on to new areas where there were far less people and less use of writing?


A lot of major turning points occurred 6,000 years ago--the switch to a grain-based diet from a meat and root diet, the use of bread and fermented grain beverages, making of oil from plants, and the rise of religions based on building "god houses" in the centers of town in areas known as the "cereal belt" around the world.


Six thousand years ago in India we have the start of the Sanskrit writings, the cultivation of grain. In China, we have the recording of acupuncture points for medicine built on energy meridians that also show up in the blue tattoos of the Ice Man fossil "Otsi" in the Alps--along the same meridians as the Chinese acupuncture points.


At 6,000 years ago the Indo European languages spread out across Europe. Mass migrations expanded by the Danube leaving pottery along the trade routes that correspond to the clines and gradients of gene frequency coming out of the cereal belts.

Then something happened. There was an agricultural frontier cutting off the agriculturists from the hunters. Isn't it a coincidence that the agricultural frontiers or barriers also are genetic barriers at least to some degree?


Oral History


Here’s how to systematically collect, record, and preserve living peoples’ testimonies about their own experiences. After you record in audio and/or video the highlights of anyone’s experiences, try to verify your findings. See whether you can check any facts in order to find out whether the person being recorded is making up the story or whether it really did happen.


This is going to be difficult unless you have witnesses or other historical records. Once you have verified your findings to the best of your ability, note whether the findings have been verified. Then analyze what you found. Put the oral history recordings in an accurate historical context.


Mark the recordings with the dates and places. Watch where you store your findings so scholars in the future will be able to access the transcript or recording and convert the recording to another, newer technology. For instance, if you have a transcript on paper, have it saved digitally on a disk and somewhere else on tape and perhaps a written transcript on acid-free good paper in case technology moves ahead before the transcript or recording is converted to the new technology.


If you only put your recording on a phonograph record, within a generation or two, there may not be any phonographs around to play the record. The same goes for CDs, DVDs and audio or video tapes


So make sure you have a readable paper copy to be transcribed or scanned into the new technology as well as the recordings on disk and tape. For example, if you record someone’s experiences in a live interview with your video camera, use a cable to save the video in the hard disk of a computer and then burn the file to a CD or DVD.


Keep a copy of audio tape and a copy of regular video tape—all in a safe place such as a time capsule, and make a copy for various archives in libraries and university oral history preservation centers. Be sure scholars in the future can find a way to enjoy the experiences in your time capsule, scrapbook, or other storage device for oral histories.

Use your DNA testing results to add more information to a historical record. As an interviewer with a video camera and/or audio tape recorder, your task is to record as a historical record what the person who you are interviewing recollects.


The events move from the person being interviewed to you, the interviewer, and then into various historical records. In this way you can combine results of DNA testing with actual memories of events. If it’s possible, also take notes or have someone take notes in case the tape doesn’t pick up sounds clearly.


I had the experience of having a video camera battery go out in spite of all precautions when I was interviewing someone, and only the audio worked. So keep a backup battery on hand whether you use a tape recorder or a video camera. If at all possible, have a partner bring a spare camera and newly recharged battery. A fully charged battery left overnight has a good chance of going out when you need it.


Writing Skits for Gift Books from Oral and Personal History Transcripts


Emphasize the commitment to family and faith. To create readers’ and media attention to an oral history, it should have some redemptive value to a universal audience. That's the most important point. Make your oral history simple and earthy. Write about real people who have values, morals, and a faith in something greater than themselves that is equally valuable to readers or viewers.


Publishers who buy an oral history written as a book on its buzz value are buying simplicity. It is simplicity that sells and nothing else but simplicity, at least most of the time. This is true for oral histories, instructional materials, and fiction. It's good storytelling to say it simply.


Simplicity means the oral history or memoirs book or story gives you all the answers you were looking for in your life in exotic places, but found it close by. What's the great proverb that your oral history is telling the world?


Is it to stand on your own two feet and put bread on your own table for your family? That's the moral point, to pull your own weight, and pulling your own weight is a buzz word that sells oral histories and fiction that won’t preach, but instead teach and reach through simplicity.


That's the backbone of the oral historian’s new media. Buzz means the story is simple to understand. You make the complex easier to grasp. And buzz means you can sell your story or book, script or narrative by focusing on the values of simplicity, morals, faith, and universal values that hold true for everyone.


Simple solutions sell in writing and publishing: Doing the best to take care of your family sells and is buzz appeal, hot stuff in the publishing market of today and in the oral history archives


This is true, regardless of genre. Publishers go through fads every two years--angel books, managing techniques books, computer home-based business books, novels about ancient historical characters or tribes, science fiction, children's programming, biography, and oral history transcribed into a book or play.


The genres shift emphasis, but values are consistent in the bestselling books. Perhaps your oral history will be simple enough to become a bestselling book or script. In the new media, simplicity is buzz along with values.


Oral history, like best-selling novels and true stories is built on simplicity, values, morals, and commitment. Include how one person dealt with about trends. Focus your own oral history about life in the lane of your choice. Develop one central issue and divide that issue into a few important questions that highlight or focus on that one central issue.


When you write or speak a personal history either alone or in an interview, you focus on determining the order of your life story. Don’t use flashbacks.


Focus on the highlights and turning points. Organize what you’ll say or write. An autobiography deals in people's relationships. Your autobiography deals as much with what doesn't change--the essentials--as what life changes you and those around you go through.


Your personal history gift book should be more concrete than abstract. You want the majority of people to understand what you mean. Generally, people at first glance understand more concrete details than abstract ideas.


Resources for Paper Conservation of Your Gift Book


American Institute for Conservation

American Institute for Convervation Information Link

Light Impressions (Archival Supplies)




WAAC Newsletter


WAAC Newsletter, Vol. 19, No 2 (May, 1997) articles and charts online by Betty Walsh, Conservator, BC Archives, Canada and the Walsh’s information at the Stanford site contains material from the WAAC Newsletter, Volume 10, Number 2, May 1988, pp.2-5 on how to rescue old documents, photos, and other items you'd save in various types of archives or put in a time capsule.


Also see materials such as the Curatorial Care of Works of Art on Paper, New York: Intermuseum Conservation Association, 1987, Library Materials Preservation Manual: Practical Methods for Preserving Books, Pamphlets, and Other Printed Materials, Heidi Kyle. 1984, and Archives & Manuscripts: Conservation – A Manual on Physical Care and Management, Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 1993.


It's not enough to create magic. You have to create a price for magic, too. You have to create rules.” __Eric A. Burns, Gossamer Commons, 06-15-05




Memory Stimulation Using Personal Histories & Autobiographies as Points of View within Social Histories


Write in the First Person


Autobiographies, biographies, personal histories, plays, and monologues present a point of view. Are all sides given equal emphasis? Will the audience choose favorite characters? Gift books encompassing both photos and text are like narrated camera scenes that give fragments, points of view, and bits and pieces. Viewers will see what the videographer or photographer intends to be seen with photos fleshed out by expanded text narrations written in the first person. The interviewee will also be trying to put his point of view across and tell the story from his perspective.


Will the photographer or videographer be in agreement with the interviewee? Or if you are recording for print transcript, will your point of view agree with the interviewee’s perspective and experience if your basic ‘premise,’ where you two are coming from, are not in agreement? Think this over as you write your list of questions. Do both of you agree on your central issue on which you’ll focus for the interview?


How are you going to turn spoken words into text for your paper hard copy transcript?


Will you transcribe verbatim, correct the grammar, or quote as you hear the spoken words? Oral historians really need to transcribe the exact spoken word. You can leave out the ‘ahs’ and ‘oms’ or loud pauses, as the interviewee thinks what to say next. You don’t want to sound like a court reporter, but you do want to have an accurate record transcribed of what was spoken.


You’re also not editing for a movie, unless you have permission to turn the oral history into a TV broadcast, where a lot gets cut out of the interview for time constraints. For that, you’d need written permission so words won’t be taken out of context and strung together in the editing room to say something different from what the interviewee intended to say.


Someone talking could put in wrong names, forget what they wanted to say, or repeat themselves. They could mumble, ramble, or do almost anything. So you would have to sit down and weed out redundancy when you can or decide on presenting exactly what you’ve heard as transcript.


When someone reads the transcript in text, they won’t have what you had in front of you, and they didn’t see and hear the live presentation or the videotape. It’s possible to misinterpret gestures or how something is spoken, the mood or tone, when reading a text transcript. Examine all your sources.


Use an ice-breaker to get someone talking.

If a woman is talking about female-interest issues, she may feel more comfortable talking to another woman. Find out whether the interviewee is more comfortable speaking to someone of his or her own age. Some older persons feel they can relate better to someone close to their own age than someone in high school, but it varies. Sometimes older people can speak more freely to a teenager.


The interviewee must be able to feel comfortable with the interviewer and know he or she will not be judged


Sometimes it helps if the interviewer is the same ethnic group or there is someone present of the same group or if new to the language, a translator is present.

Read some books on oral history field techniques. Read the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ). Also look at The American Genealogist (TAG), The Genealogist, and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register (The Register). If you don’t know the maiden name of say, your grandmother’s mother, and no relative knows either because it wasn’t on her death certificate, try to reconstruct the lives of the males who had ever met the woman whose maiden name is unknown.


Maybe she did business with someone before marriage or went to school or court. Someone may have recorded the person’s maiden name before her marriage. Try searching medical records if any were kept. There was no way to find my mother’s grandmother’s maiden name until I started searching to see whether she had any brothers in this country. She had to have come as a passenger on a ship around 1880 as she bought a farm. Did her husband come with her?


Was the farm in his name?


How many brothers did she have in this country with her maiden surname? If the brothers were not in this country, what countries did they come from and what cities did they live in before they bought the farm in Albany? If I could find out what my great grandmother’s maiden name was through any brothers living at the time, I could contact their descendants perhaps and see whether any male or female lines are still in this country or where else on the globe.


Perhaps a list of midwives in the village at the time is recorded in a church or training school for midwives. Fix the person in time and place. Find out whom she might have done business with and whether any records of that business exist. What businesses did she patronize? Look for divorce or court records, change of name records, and other legal documents.


Look at local sources. Did anyone save records from bills of sale for weddings, purchases of homes, furniture, debutante parties, infant supplies, or even medical records? Look at nurses’ licenses, midwives’ registers, employment contracts, and teachers’ contracts, alumni associations for various schools, passports, passenger lists, alien registration cards, naturalization records, immigrant aid societies, city directories, and cross-references.


Try religious and women’s clubs, lineage and village societies, girl scouts and similar groups, orphanages, sanatoriums, hospitals, police records. Years ago there was even a Eugenics Record Office. What about the women’s prisons? The first one opened in 1839—Mount Pleasant Female Prison, NY.


Try voters’ lists. If your relative is from another country, try records in those villages or cities abroad. Who kept the person’s diaries? Have you checked the Orphan Train records? Try ethnic and religious societies and genealogy associations for that country. Most ethnic genealogy societies have a special interest group for even the smallest villages in various countries.


You can start one and put up a Web site for people who also come from there in past centuries. Check alimony, divorce, and court records, widow’s pensions of veterans, adoptions, orphanages, foster homes, medical records, birth, marriage, and death certificates, social security, immigration, pet license owners’ files, prisons, alumni groups from schools, passenger lists, military, and other legal records.


When all historical records are being tied together, you can add the DNA testing to link all those cousins. Check military pensions on microfilms in the National Archives. Research the public records bibliographies, directories, and censuses.




Preparing Personal History Time Capsules for a Journey

Be personal in a personal history life story. The more personal you are, the more eternal is your life story. More people will view or read it again and again far into the future. You can emphasize your life's journey and look at the world through your own eyes.

To make the structure salable, ‘meander’ your life as you would travel on a journey. Perhaps you’re a winding river meandering around obstacles and competitors. At each stop, you learn your own capabilities and your own place in the world.


The more you meander, the more you take away the urgency from your story that sets up tension in the audience and keeps them on the edge of their seat


Don't let the meandering overpower your sense of urgency. Don’t dwell on your reaction. Focus on your action to people and situations. Stay active in your own personal history. In other words, don’t repeat how you reacted, but show how you acted.


Before you sit down to write your autobiography, think of yourself in terms of going on a journey inside the privacy of your purse or wallet. May your purse is the only place where you really do have any privacy. Come up for air when you have hit bottom. Bob up to the sunshine, completely changed or at least matured.


If you have really grown, you will not be blinded by the light, in the figurative sense, as the song goes. Instead, the light gives you insight. So now you have vision along with some hindsight. The next step is learning how to promote and market your salable personal history or life story.


What a biography reports


A biography reports the selected events of another person's life--usually 12 major events in the six various significant events also known as “turning points” and also known as “transition points” of life that would include the highlights of significant events for each of the six stages of growth: 1) infanthood, 2) childhood, 3) teen years 4) young adulthood 5) middle life 6) maturity.


You also may be interested in checking out some my books on this and related topics. At this time the book titles are listed at Amazon.com.