Thursday, February 04, 2010

Writing the Oral History

I belong to a Bunco group. I’ve been in it about twenty-five years. That’s a long time, but I’m actually one of the “newer” members. The group’s been around much longer. Kids have been born; they’ve grown; and got kids of their own. I think I’m the only non-grandmother or grandmother-to-be in the group.

This is all to say, we have history. Stories. Hi-jinks … and low-jinks. Luckily, we have an historian. She has a notebook.

A blank notebook.

Every time something happens we all yell for the historian to put it in the book. Every time a past escapade comes up in conversation, we call on the historian. Like the time two women, after a long drive across town, arrived at Bunco, careened through the front door, and hit the stairs running, hollering they’d chat after they visited the bathroom. Only to stop mid-way, realizing they didn’t recognize a single face in the house or even the house interior.

Or my own tale of being new to the group. It was, I believe, my first time to host Bunco. Nowadays I’m very relaxed about Bunco. Back then, it was stressful, especially for the first time -- cleaning house, preparing a full dinner for twelve, buying presents. After we gathered, chatted and had drinks, ate dinner, played Bunco, gave out presents, had coffee and dessert, and were sitting around talking, someone asked if I was happy my first Bunco was over. I told her I was so happy, I could dance. And I did. A silly little dance as I sang, “Bunco’s over. Bunco’s over. My Bunco’s over.” Whereupon, everyone stood up and left.

Luckily, we have a historian to record all of these tales. Luckily, she has a good memory. If she could just remember where she put the notebook or to write anything in it.

But that’s okay. Oral history is a time honored way of passing on stories. And we’re a group of women who do love to talk. As writers we often pass on true stories in our books and tales. Sometimes they are recorded as they happened. Sometimes we change things to fit the book or to protect the real people.

Do you put real events in your books? Do you usually change them slightly? Or not?
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  1. This just makes me wonder how many little cute quirks in books are real events the author has included.

    Gotta ask, the two ladies - where they at the right place? If so, why didn't they recognize anyone or the house?

    Loved the post. I think families even need a historian for all their stories.

  2. Great stories! I've played Bunko (with a K in the Carolinas!) and always, always lose. Since it's a game that requires absolutely no thought, that's okay with me.

    I do use a lot of real stories. I change them a little so I won't get in trouble. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  3. Helen,

    Like many writers, my first novel was autobiographical. It came about because after I had a stroke, my husband had to do just about everything for me during my recovery. I wondered what would happen to someone without that support and turned my "what if" into a novel. The romance was totally fiction (I had been married for 25 years by the time I had my stroke) but all the physical and emotional challenges the character went through as a result of the stroke were real.

    On the other hand, my second novel has nothing from real life. The characters, the plot, and all the details come totally out of my imagination.

    Lillie Ammann
    A Writer's Words, An Editor's Eye

  4. I'd never even heard of bunco. Interesting. No, I've never written an actual historical event in a book yet. I've read lots of them, of course, and always wonder (since I'm by no means an historian) how accurate they were recounted.

    Marvin D Wilson

  5. A video of your Bunco dance would've been great!

    I tried to avoid putting any of my real life experiences in my books. I wanted my characters to experience something new.

    However, one scene did creep into Book II. We'd gone with my husband's cousins and some friends out for a round of putt-putt. Toward the end, his cousin started rearranging the course and creating new obstacles. We looked back, and the couple behind us was playing around these obstacles as if they were supposed to be there! I couldn't resist allowing my most mischievious character the same opportunity.

  6. Can't say that I put any of my own experiences into my book. Perhaps as I write more, something will appear, though.

  7. I call on past events and places when writing, but only as reference points. I don't include anything that's actually happened.
    By the time it's in one of my books, it's way different.

    I do include actual happenings in my blogs because my blogs are reality and not fiction.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. I don't include events from my life in my fiction, but I do include locations from my life. Towns, cities, beaches, places I've been serve me well in my writing.

  9. I'd never even heard of bunco. Interesting. i want to read about it more, thanks for the sharing.

  10. Your bunco group sounds fantastic. I belonged to one much like that the last place we lived. I'm in one here, but it's just not the same.

  11. Mason, they didn't recognize the house or anyone in it because they were indeed in the wrong house.

    Elizabeth, our group spells it with a "c" also, as in Bunco. If I'm online I spell it with a "k." On my website, I have two pages about Bunko - how to play, a bit of history about our group, and many recipes. Not long after I put those pages up, I got a cease and desist letter from a company that said they had the trademark on "Bunco." I wasn't going to take down the pages and I didn't want some huge fine, so I substituted a "k" for the "c" and never heard from them again.

  12. What a wonderful group of stories and a way to knit the group together. :)
    I don't write things down - I've never been a 'diary' person. I guess I've never thought that things in my own life were worth recording (or that someone else might read it!)

  13. I'm not a diary person, either, Laura. Now that I'm beginning to forget things, I rather wish I had written things down!

  14. I've never heard of Bunko either. NOw I'll go check out your website. As a memoir writer, everything really happened. IT will be interesting as I switch to fiction, whether real life events end up in the manuscript.

  15. Sounds like a ton of fun!

    While I may start with a real event, it's usually altered by the time it reaches my manuscript, especially if it's detailed. But a lot of tiny things make it in.

  16. I agree, bits and pieces find their way into our writing, even if it's just the emotions or what we decide to write about.

  17. I haven't used any "real" stories in my writing... yet. I know it will happen. There are so many times when someone will say "we should write this stuff down" or "I should write a book". Sounds like a good idea :)

  18. Things slip in, bits and pieces mostly.

  19. Whenever I put a real incident into a story, my critique group says, "Yuck, that could never happen." I just don't know how to make reality believable.

  20. Your examples made me laugh. I haven't used any true stories in my fiction - yet. I think if I did, I would probably change them somewhat so that the actual participants might not recognize themselves.

  21. How many times in real life, Mark, do we sigh and say, nobody will believe this? ;-)

    I agree, Jane. Definitely change things.

  22. I don't plan on using real life. I just use the details from real things look and feel and smell...all real...surrounding a story that is anything but.


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