But is it True?
Bringing your story to life with facts - how to do research to get facts to give your story more impact.
Taking a memoir writing class a few years ago, our instructor loved to slash our stories with her evil red pen. We’d see that thing hovering over the papers, ready to plunge with a big “THIS SOUNDS LIKE B.S.!!” scrawled across some of our more fanciful tall tales.
When you add facts to your story, you bring it to life. There are several ways that you can use research to help your story. By adding the facts (without being terribly extensive or, dare we say, dull, we’ve already got Wikipedia for that) you can take a story that may be one dimensional to your readers and give it different perspectives and textures. On the flipside of this, you can take a set of facts and weave your personal story through them. Whichever way you go, you can be certain that facts and research will give your story an edge and make it stand out. This is one reason why memoirs of celebrities or political figures are so popular. They weave tales through facts and let the reader see the world through their eyes.
Let's say that you are talking about the birth of your little brother on March 24, 1944. You could mention that the "Great Escape" was born as 76 Allied officers escaped Stalag Luft 3, 811 British bombers attacked Berlin and Nazis executed 300 civilians in occupied Rome. This establishes some anchor points and gives your readers a feel for the times. If you remember air raids, you can talk about the fear or confusion that you felt. You can't take your reader back in time, but when you add facts and combine them with feelings, you can certainly bring the times to your readers. Adding facts lend an air of reality and truth to your writing, not to mention interest and dimension. Two great sites for this are Brainy History at ’s “This Day in History” at /this-day-in-history.do.
Face it, sometimes memory will fail you. Maybe you won't remember a particular date or exactly how a certain event played out. Research can help fill in the gaps that you can't remember. Do an internet search for events that you want to include in your story. Google, Alta Vista, Yahoo and other searches can return millions of sites. The key, though, is discerning which sites are legitimate and which are junk. Try to use reputable sites for your information. Generally, if a site ends in .gov or .org, it is legitimate. However, sites ending in com and net can be legitimate too. For instance, History.com is very reputable.
Sometimes researching the timeframe in which an item became popular or when in history the use of something became widespread can help you pinpoint, or at least estimate, a time for the setting of your story. Do you have a great story but you can't remember when it occurred? However, you do remember that "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett was on the Billboard Top 200. When you look it up, you see that it was a hit in 1963. Billboard.com has a historical section that can help you with that. Use the search engines to find the items and establish a timeline.
Different customs can have specific timelines so if your memory is a little fuzzy, it’s a good idea to do a little research. Maybe your story is about when aerobics became popular. You can do a little research and find the years that it began and became popular.
Research can breathe life into your memoirs. These instructions sound as though stating the obvious here, but making up facts will cause you to lose credibility in your story or invite challenges, so use research to bolster your stories.