Go beyond writing a family history, write a family history with style! A writing style, to be precise. In this article we’ll explore: what is a writing style, how do you go about finding yours and how can doing so help you to write your family history? We’ll explore different types of writing styles and help you to work out yours, so that writing your family history feels more intuitive and less like an up hill battle!
Table of Contents
First…I want to make it clear…there’s no such thing as a wrong or right writing style.
Have you ever read a bestselling novel, one that others have absolutely raved about, and just hated it?
Or have you ever read a book and completely adored it, only to be baffled to find that it was given a whole bunch of terrible reviews?
Personally I love Wuthering Heights but I’m quite aware that for all the reasons I love it, someone else will find it unbearable to read. In fact, I once confessed on Twitter that I can’t stand Little Women, and asked others to own up about the novels they secretly detest. I was shocked to find that most people replied “Wuthering Heights”.
It just goes to show that there is no such thing as a wrong or right writing style. There’s incorrect grammar, there’s writing that doesn’t use any literary techniques, there are plots with holes, but actual style can’t be good or bad. Writing style is a matter of personal taste.
So, what do I mean by writing style?
A quick Google of “examples of writing styles” will bring up a plethora of articles telling you there are any number of different types of writing styles. But, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that basically they boil down into 4 types: Persuasive, Narrative, Expository and Descriptive.
I think of these 4 as the ‘base’ ingredient for developing your writing style. Here’s an explanation of each type:
Persuasive writing – you guessed it, this type of writing is all about being persuasive. It’s used to convince, argue or justify a position or an opinion.
Some examples of family history persuasive writing:
Expository writing – from the Latin ‘expound’, this writing is used to explain or share information or concepts.
Some examples of family history expository writing:
Descriptive writing – this writing is about using description to help a reader imagine a person, place, feeling, emotion, scene etc. It uses sensory information and literary techniques.
Some examples of family history descriptive writing:
Narrative writing – used to tell a story, this writing has a plot and characters, either of which may be fictional or non-fictional. Storytelling is often used to convey a message.
Some examples of family history narrative writing:
These writing styles do not live in isolation. A piece of writing may use several writing styles together. For example, in order to strengthen an author’s argument, a persuasive piece of writing might draw on expository techniques, such as exploring statistics or stating facts. It may also draw on descriptive writing in order to encourage a reader to empathise with a point of view. Similarly narrative writing will usually include descriptive pieces, and might include a persuasive message.
An example of family history writing using several styles:
I have written about my ancestors Heaton Decrespigny and Jane Lovegrove, arguing that their “affair” was actually more likely a gross abuse of his superior position as Jane’s elder and employer. I am trying to convince readers of the validity of my opinion.
The piece is persuasive, but I also explain the facts I have discovered (expository) before detailing my thoughts on the evidence. I felt the piece would be more persuasive if it included a bit of descriptive fiction, imagining Jane’s life. I describe her scrubbing the steps (descriptive) and outline her story (narrative).
What makes your writing style unique?
Like I said above, the 4 types detailed above can be thought of as your ‘base’.
Think of your writing style like a recipe for a good pizza. A bespoke one that only you can make!
For this example, let’s say the basics of a pizza sauce is always some variant of ‘tomato sauce’. That tomato sauce is the equivalent of the 4 writing styles detailed above. Yours might be ‘persuasive’ with a dash of ‘descriptive’, just like someone’s pizza sauce might be tomato with a dash of garlic.
The exact blend of the 4 writing styles that you use becomes part of your unique writing style ‘base’.
But no one wants pizza with sauce and nothing else! They want toppings.
Similarly, your writing style base is layered with decisions on the language you use, the structure of your pieces and the literary techniques you prefer to employ. Sprinkle on those – and bingo you’ve got your very own unique writing style. One no one else can replicate.
That writing style will be like pizza with pineapple on it. Deeply divisive! Considered pure genius or a culinary atrocity. Depending on your preference. Remember, there’s no good or bad in terms of style.
Literary techniques are such a vast topic that I cannot cover them fully in this article. You might think that they are confined to descriptive or narrative writing – they’re not! In this passage I used a literary technique – metaphor. I used a pizza to explain a concept.
How to choose your writing style 'base'
Your writing style ‘base’ will vary depending on what you are writing about, but often there is a style or two which we find easier and more enjoyable to adopt.
The first questions to ask yourself when trying to determine which writing style to employ are:
- What is the purpose of this piece of writing?
- What is my goal in writing this piece?
- What is compelling me to write this?
The answers to each of those questions may be the same, or there may be different answers to each question.
For example, when I write about my female ancestors the purpose of my writing is to share something about their lives. My goal is to show their importance and to remind others to write about the women in their trees. I’m compelled to do this because I believe female ancestors often get neglected, usually due to a lack of evidence about their personal lives. I think that means we are in danger of having an unbalanced perspective on the lives of our ancestors.
In the example above I’d certainly want to employ some persuasive writing techniques.
Of course sometimes knowing your writing aims and objectives still doesn’t narrow down the style options. It might be possible to meet your goals using any one of the styles! In those instances, it’s important to consider what type of writing you most enjoy.
Discover the writing styles you enjoy
The writing styles we enjoy reading are usually the styles we enjoy writing. Therefore, pay close attention to the books, blog posts or magazine articles you take pleasure in reading. Why do you like them? Which elements do you like? What kind of writing style does the author use? What literary techniques do they sprinkle on top?
Lastly, you should feel free to experiment with writing styles. If you love descriptive, narrative writing and want to explain a DNA connection then why not try writing your evidence into a story? If you like to read detailed explanations, highly valuing that “aha” moment when a difficult concept just seems to suddenly make sense – well, then try adopting that approach with your own family history writing.
Whenever you are reading, ask yourself what was it about whatever you’ve read that worked particularly well? Can you adopt that technique?
Take the writing style quiz!
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Write a family history that’s your relatives will want to read. One brought to life by newspapers and my FIG technique.
So, you’ve done so much family history research that you’re drowning in facts and you’ve decided – that’s it – I’ve got to start writing