Identifying Your Ancestor’s Inner Story

egg yolk overheadYesterday, we discussed conflict in our family history story.  I also referred to it as outer conflict or outer story.  The outer conflict is pulled from the facts and events of your ancestor’s life and it is revealed in your story through action and plot. This is often easier for family historians to identify than the inner conflict which we will tackle today.

In Your Book Starts Here, Create, Craft, and Sell Your First Novel, Memoir, or Nonfiction Book, Mary Carroll Moore presents us with the concept of outer and inner story. She defines inner story.



Inner story answers the question Why? It contributes discovery to your book because it takes the reader along on a journey of meaning. Good inner story surprises writer as well as reader as it emerges on the page.

We’ve identified those tangible material objects our ancestor desired, a home, land, money that we’ve classified as the outer conflict.  The inner story involves a blend of inner conflict and theme which delivers a deeper meaning to your story beyond the apparent plot line.

The inner conflicts are those less tangible desires and wants our ancestors were seeking in their life such as love, peace, happiness,

Finding The Story 3 UPDATE

security and self-confidence.  The inner story should takes us on an internal transformation of your ancestor and provides us with the theme of the story. Theme or focus as I refer to it in the guide is the meaning you want your reader to take away from the story.

The inner story often emerges organically as you immerse yourself in your first draft. But you must write your outer story and crack through its shell so the inner story can begin to emerge.  Write your outer story, and let the inner story surface spill out. However, I would like to offer you a few exercises to help you push the process along in cracking through the outer story to reveal the inner story.

  1. Create a list of events in your ancestor’s life or look to a timeline if you have created one in preparation of writing. Is there a repetition in the events they participated in their life?
  2.  Is there a repetition in how they reacted and responded to these events?
  3. Is there a repetition of ideas in the problems they needed to solve in their life?
  4. Is there a repeating pattern in places they visited, or lived?
  5. As you write your first draft do repeating patterns emerge in their dialogue? Does a word or phrase begin to surface repeatedly?
  6. As possible inner conflicts and themes immerge through the exercises above or through the journey of writing your first draft create a list of topics. You don’t have to decide on a theme just yet but keeping them organized can help you from feeling overwhelmed.
  7. Consider exploring the themes you’ve identified in your theme list using free-writing exercises. Your writings may be related to your family history, or to your own life. The exercise in writing about this potential theme may lead you to discover a path to your inner story.