Allison's Book Bag

Writing Family Memories, Guest Post by Pamela Tuck

Posted on: January 28, 2014

TuckFamilyA mother of twelve children, Pamela Tuck had a young audience long before she decided to write for them. She became interested in writing for children after a family night of storytelling. The family sat around telling silly stories “off the top of our heads”. When her turn came around, she left her family captivated. It was then Tuck decided to write picture books.

The idea for As Fast As Words Could Fly, which I’ll review tomorrow, came from her father’s personal experience. Belonging to a family of civil rights activists had surrounded Tuck with many stories of pride, oppositions, and triumph. The inspiration to turn a snippet of her father’s story into a picture book was initiated by her husband, Joel. In her bio, Tuck shares that “in listening to her father tell his story over and over, his determination to excel always overshadowed his oppositions”. She admits that at first she didn’t think she could give her father’s story justice as a picture book, but her husband became her personal cheerleader. Tuck notes, “It’s ironic how the same willpower that enabled my father to surpass his doubts, also allowed me to surpass mine.”

Tuck has written more than one story based on family experiences, which led one interviewer to ask her: ” What tips would you offer to others who would like to publish family stories?” That question inspired me to invite Tuck to write a guest post on the same topic. Please enjoy her informative response.



One piece of advice for writers that I often read is to write what you know and are passionate about. I agree. What can you be more passionate about than your own family? Right? While this may be true and your heart is in it, that doesn’t mean writing about your family is an easy thing to do. One advantage in writing from a family story is the fact that three main aspects are already given to you: the character, their voice and the plot. The two challenging parts of writing a family story are: trying to pick a plot point or focal point to develop, and giving the story the same powerful impact the storyteller has given it. I prefer writing realistic fiction to incorporate my family stories. This gives me the freedom to add creative dialogue and build scenes to highlight the true events. Every author has his/her own approach to writing, but I guess the best way I can explain how to capture family memories on paper would be to tell you how I’ve done it.

When writing As Fast As Words Could Fly, I knew my dad’s story of writing letters for my grandfather, participating in sit-ins, desegregating the formerly all white school, learning to type, and entering the typing tournament. I decided to use his typing as my focal point. The next step was to create a beginning that would lead up to his typing, a middle that would show some type of conflict with his typing and an ending that would show the results of his typing. I conducted an interview with my dad so he could give me more details. I could then decide which snippets of his story would work in my beginning, middle and ending. As he retold his story, I LISTENED. I didn’t just listen to the events, but I listened to his expressions. I heard his fears, his excitement, his sadness, his determination, etc., and I made a note of each emotion. After listening, I asked questions to clarify questionable spots and parts of the story I was unfamiliar with. By the time I finished listening and interviewing, I knew my characters and I had their voices. I began writing. Since I wanted to focus on his typing, I decided to combine a few events to use as my opening. I used the idea of him composing hand-written letters for his father’s civil rights group. I threw in a little dialogue that explained the need for a sit-in, and then at some point I had the civil rights group give him a typewriter to make the letter writing a little easier. Those few snippets gathered from my father’s experiences started the flow of my story and established my plot. At some point, I had to do a little research to gain more understanding of certain things and people, like priming tobacco, and the history of Golden Frinks, a historical character mentioned in the story. When using a centralized theme or idea, try to use other aspects of the story in a way that will bring the focus back to the plot point. For example, when my dad primed tobacco during the summer, I used that event in a way to show his determination. Although he was weary from his day’s work, he didn’t let that stop him from practicing his typing. All the events in a picture book story should support your plot.

Now, for fuller length books, the listening and interviewing is the same. Determining your plot is the same. But instead of combining events to work with a plot, you have more freedom to use each event to build separate scenes for your novel. This is what my husband and I did when we wrote Color Struck. I took notes while my grandmother retold her story, and I tried not to interrupt her. When she was done, I questioned her for details for parts I felt I would use as a scene. Some things she couldn’t remember, but I took the bits and pieces she provided and filled in the rest with my own creative imagination. The hardest part was trying to figure out how to tell my grandmother’s adult story in a book for children. That’s when we decided to create a frame story (a story within a story) that would include granddaughters who have their own conflict which prompts grandma to tell them her story. Here again, Color Struck is a work of fiction based on true events, so that gave me a lot of room to create dialogue and build scenes to connect each event my grandmother had outlined. I also pulled from my own personal memories to add authenticity to the granddaughters.

So, in closing, I think the main thing in writing from a family story is focusing on the theme that resonates with you when you hear it. It’s usually pretty clear what that theme will be, because it’s the thing the storyteller expresses the most emotion about. LISTEN to that emotion, capture the voice by imitating the dialect and dialogue of the storyteller, and write what you know . . . write about that loved one you’re so passionate about, so their story can be shared across generations.

2 Responses to "Writing Family Memories, Guest Post by Pamela Tuck"

Wow. What a lovely family. Awesome! God bless. 🙂

I enjoyed connecting through email with Pamela Tuck. She seems like a nice lady!

By the way, I tried to visit your site Writing is a Blessing but received the notice of it being labeled private. Are you revamping your site or shutting it down? 😦

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