Writing about Your Life: Now what did they say?

English: Trees lining the Patuxent River, whic...
English: Trees lining the Patuxent River, which runs adjacent to the Savage Mill Trail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Grandfather, how long will it be before we get to the river?” I asked one hot summer’s day, trailing behind my brothers and sisters. “These sticker briars are scratching my legs.”

  “Jist a li’l while longer, chil,” Grandfather replied, as he held a long scythe in his veined, sun-baked hands. Gripping the splintered handle, he swung the contraption and decisively parted a tangled thicket, allowing us to inch our way behind him.

“Jist a few more steps and we be dair!” Once again, Grandfather was taking us for a swim down at the fork of the Little Patuxent River, which lay between our house and a railroad bordering unexplored territory on the other side.

  “Be careful, chil’ren,” Grandfather warned. “Dair’s a few sink holes dat might suck ya down to da bot’m.” And with those words, he watched from the river’s edge, looming over us like a guardian angel, while we splashed around, giggling every second.

One way to acquaint readers with characters in your story is to use dialogue which accurately identifies how they talk. I have to admit that trying to use the right speech patterns and dialect for my grandfather and grandmother was a challenge. In fact, my oldest sister said she did not remember my grandparents talking as I portrayed them in my book. At first I was somewhat annoyed by her comment. Then I remembered a very important point about memoirs: This was my recollection of my grandparents, not hers. I was writing from my memory and that made my story real and accurate to me.

     Another challenge for me was trying to spell the words I heard as a little girl. My experience reading other writers’ use of dialogue was helpful here. Over the course of writing my story, I read biographies, autobiographies and novels which used the kind of conversation which reminded me of my grandparents.  As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, writers need to read! You will gain a wealth of knowledge when you take time to read books from others who have mastered their craft.

    If you’re writing your first draft, give yourself a break and dont’ get too caught up with trying to write perfect dialogue the first time around. After all, the most important thing is telling the story as you remember it. Changes will take place the second or third time you revise your draft.

Another rule of thumb is to change paragraphs as speakers change. For those who are already acquainted with this rule, allow me to remind new writers.  I say “remind” because you probably learned this skill in language arts classes back in the day. As you continue reading books by other authors, you’ll start noticing more helpful writing techniques.

Writing is hard work, but telling your story is worth it! You may have to get up earlier or go to bed later or sometimes write through your lunch hour, but you’ll feel such a sense of accomplishment when you have that completed book in your hands. Remember–you’re on a journey! Learn to enjoy the process!

2 thoughts on “Writing about Your Life: Now what did they say?

  1. Patricia,
    Your recollection of your grandparent’s words are rich and beautiful. How delightful it must be to replay them in your mind. My grandparents passed before I was born. I have some of my great grandfather’s journals – true treasures. Most importantly, we must keep their words alive and well for generations to come. I am learning more and more that words have living, breathing power to satisfy our longings to connect with our heritage. I hope my grandchildren will read some of my writings when I’m in my heavenly home and allow the words to soothe, comfort and inspire them – just as your recollection.


  2. Colleen,
    I often ask my mother about my grandparents’ history. I wish I knew more, but she did not ask them a lot of questions back then. I want to pass as much of what I know on to my children. My son told me he had heard the family talk about my grandparents but did not “know” them until he read my book. Words indeed have power! Thanks for your encouragement.


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