Start with a Title: Appeal to Your Audience
Do you Want People to Read your Family History Story? Or maybe not. If your title is “Mable Anne Jones,” or “Great Grannie Sally Mae Lawson” or “Frederick Adamson” or any other such thing, no matter how great your story is, I won’t be reading it. And sad to say even your intended audience (family) may not either. A person’s name is not enough: it’s BORING. It tells the reader Nothing. If it is an unusual surname, and it’s one of yours maybe…If your title is Ancestor #21 (as in the 52 week challenge), what can I say? Nope.
Please, please, please, you can do better! Granted not all stories are going to generate great titles but as family historians we need to up our game. At the very least give us a hint of who or what you are writing about. A name is not enough.
So what is enough? That’s up to you. Johan Martin MOSER: Bavarian Shoemaker. [That’s a bit better.] The 3 Marriages and 17 children of Adam MOSER of Ulrichausen, Bavaria. Gold Mining on the Trinity with Milo & Carrie MOSIER. Here’s a secret: the tighter the story the easier it is to title it. Question: do you need to tell their whole life story? Would a short story be more powerful and more informative? Should you break her life into chapters? If no one is reading it what are you doing wrong?
I may not be able to improve your writing but I can help with your titles. Here are a few ideas for Titles and some examples.
- CHANGE THE ORDER: “John Jones Bounty Hunter” or “The Tale of John Jones: Bounty Hunter”
- ALLITERATION: Faith & Fury
- HUMOR: Ice Cream Melons & Foxes: It’s the Mouth Watering Details that Bring an Ancestor to Life.
- QUOTE: snatch a quote from a passage in your story. A Fairy Land of Snow Embroidered Dreams: A Soprano’s Aria Chapter 19 (I love this title!)
- MYSTERY: The Case of the Mysterious Birth Certificate
- DESCRIPTION: Family Heirlooms: Dog Tags
- ANALOGY: Moving Days: A Soprano’s Aria Chapter 10
Perhaps I am an anomaly but I tend to scroll by simple name titles. Pique my interest and I will read further. If you are simply going to rehash your ancestors vitals, who cares? And if that is all you are going to do, can you at least be a bit more creative with your titles?
Did his wife die and leave him with 6 young children? Did her husband die in a tragic accident while she was pregnant with his first child. Were they born rich and died dirt poor? Or the other way around? If you can find nothing interesting to write about ancestor X, “STOP.” WAIT, until you find someone with a good story. If you are answering me, “but none of my ancestors were interesting….” My reply: “Everyone’s lives are interesting.” if you haven’t found the story you need to do more research. If they were just poor farmers what droughts, floods, crop failures did they live through? Was her life punctuated with tragedy or success? Even if the newspaper did not mention “your” ancestor—it did mention what was happening. Did they lose family members during the 2018 Spanish Flu? Yout story might be: “The Year the Locusts Came Back,” or “The Day We Buried Grandma.” I guarantee there are stories you know or that you can discover.
HINT: Whenever I have an idea for a story I want to write I put it in my Parking lot. Often it’s just a Title to start. I might add a couple of sentences. But Titles often sit in the Parking Lot for quite awhile until there ready for a spin. And I will often have 3-4-5-6 or more Titles waiting for me. I find that helps take the pressure off.
So you have written a half dozen pieces and you titled them by the ancestor’s name. So what to do? You can go back and re-title or subtitle already written pieces and/or you can jot down some possible titles of stories you want to write. If you wish to share a title in the comment section please do! Titles are fun. They can’t be too long—and you can mull them over for days until they feel just right! Writing is fun and so are TITLES!
Kelly WHEATON Copyright 2021. All RIghts Reserved.