Finding the Conflict in Your Family History Story

saving a drowning manYesterday, Sharon gave us a great look at story and the elements that create a story arc. Every story, whether in a book or a movie format brings its reader/viewer a conflict. The main character is faced with a struggle, they are reaching for goal, a desire and the reader asks the question, what is going to happen? This is at the very core of story. Like Sharon mentioned “no conflict, no story.”  We read a book because the main character is faced with a problem and we want to know how it is resolved. It is what drives our reader to continue reading; they are seeking an answer to the question that you the writer have proposed. Without conflict your reader has no purpose to continue. Unfortunately, this is why so many family history stories fail to engage their readers; they give them no reason beyond learning the facts, this is simply not enough.

By identifying this struggle and shaping it into a plot we give ourselves another opportunity to engage our audience in our family history stories.  Once a conflict is presented, the reader wonders what will happen, how they will overcome these problems, and we’ve engaged our reader to continue reading. A genealogical narrative of the facts of your ancestor’s life is not a story, and while it can serve a purpose in organizing facts and sharing information with fellow genealogists, it leaves little to engage your family.

A story appears when you structure your information in such a way that it outlines a conflict and brings the reader along in his journey to his goal. It connects the reader to their ancestor; they root for them, and want to know more.

Consider the three questions below  to help you identify the conflict in your family history. Once you find the outer conflict you find the outer story.

There are four basic struggles that most conflicts can be attributed to, consider which best describes your ancestor’s struggle. Whom was your ancestor’s greatest opponent?

Which one of these conflicts is at the heart of your family history story?

Man vs.  Man

Man vs. Nature

Man vs. Society

Man vs. Himself

What did your ancestor want or desire?

Identify your ancestors wants and desires, what is it they desire most in their life – emigration, land, religious freedom, freedom from slavery, desire to have children, money? It could be anyone of these or several of them. By analyzing your ancestor’s life and events, identify a want and a desire. It’s there, buried in those facts and events of their lives, you just need to look for it.

 What is at Stake for your ancestor? 

An additional way of helping you to arrive at the conflict for your story is too identify what is at stake for your ancestor? If they don’t

Finding The Story 3 UPDATE

emigrate what could happen? If they don’t find a job, what will occur?  The higher the stakes, the more interested your reader becomes.

Address these three questions, and you will be well on your way to identifying a conflict in your family history story.