Thursday, July 23, 2015

Family Time

I’m taking a blogging break for a week or so 
for some very special family time.

My kids and grandkids 
will remember these people 
and events 
and experiences 
for a lifetime 
and, being the memoir nerd that I am
I hope and pray they’ll write stories about this time 
for their future generations to enjoy!

I’ll be back soon.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Your “necessary stories” might be falling into place behind the scenes

You probably have “necessary stories,” stories you need to write—someday—for kids and grandkids and generations yet to be born.

But you’ve been putting off writing your memoir because it’s hard to find time, or motivation, or courage, or just the right words.

If so, I have news for you: Your stories might be taking shape nevertheless.

Kim Edwards, author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, spoke of how she came to write the story. The idea for it “stayed with me…as the necessary stories do.”

Life went on and many things occupied her time.

Then one day, a chance encounter reawakened within her the book idea, “with a greater sense of urgency and interest. Still it was another year before I started to write it.

“Then the first chapter came swiftly, almost fully formed, that initial seed having grown tall while I wasn’t really paying attention.”

Maybe for you, too, the seed of your story has been swelling and sprouting and growing tall while you weren’t taking notice.

Stories can be like that.

Stories live in hidden corners of your brain and heart where, subconsciously (if not consciously), you’ve already started assembling stories for your memoir:

  • You’ve been collecting—in your mind or in writing or on your computer—ideas or relevant quotes or Bible verses. 
  • You’ve run across old photos or newspaper clippings.
  • You heard an old song.
  • You’ve run into an old friend.
  • You’ve remembered key events that might have seemed unimportant at the time but which now hold significance.

And all that is marinating in the back of your mind and it’s starting to come together.

Think about it.

Perhaps you’re more ready
to start writing your stories
than you thought.
The time to write might be any day now.

Remember: an unfinished manuscript tucked in a drawer
or saved on a computer will not inspire anyone!
It won’t bless anyone,
it won’t shape any lives.

Also remember,
everyone starts with a rough draft.
Your initial attempts at writing
don’t need to be perfect.

The worst thing you write
is better than the best thing you didn’t write.”
(author unknown)

Is today the day to start your rough draft?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Your words matter

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

Your words, whether spoken or written,
are powerful:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Beyond likeable: Worthy

In addition to crafting well-rounded, relatable, realistic, fleshed-out, believable characters in our memoirs (click here if you missed our recent post), Angela Ackerman asks a thought-provoking question: Will Writers Find Your Protagonist Worthy?

Her post challenged me to re-examine main characters in a memoir I’m writing. Her insights will be valuable to you, too, as you write your memoir.

Angela asks if our readers will consider our key people “worth rooting for.”

You and I need to discover the “true worthiness” of our key figures and then find words to describe them.

True worthiness” is more than being nice or charming or attractive or accomplished or likeable. It’s higher and deeper and wider than those.

Such worthiness has to do with a person’s moral code, principles, standards, beliefs, ideals, values, and ethics.

I’m not necessarily talking about prominent, recognized, lauded people.

Think about this: In most cases, your heroes and mine are everyday common people, living quiet, private lives, maybe even mundane lives.

You and I have the task of showing
how those ordinary unsung heroes
came into our lives
and led us,
cheered for us,
steered us away from foolishness,
prayed for us,
cried with us,
laughed with us,
(and sometimes laughed at us),
changed us,
showed us how to live
and love
and work
and worship.
They modeled integrity
and honor
and faithfulness
and commitment,
and we memoirists
need to flesh out those people
and develop those key characters in our stories
so readers feel they know them
and “find them worthy of rooting for.”

Look over the main personalities in your memoir—not all people, only key figures.

If you haven’t read your rough drafts for a while, you’ll be able read with fresh eyes and ears (yes, read them aloud). Put yourself in your readers’ shoes while you read your drafts and ask yourself if your key figures are “worthy of rooting for.” If not, spend time developing your heroes.

Pull back the layers
and dig deeply,
all the while asking yourself
what experiences, choices,
values, beliefs, 
and/or people
made them into the persons they became?
Get out your magnifying glass.
Then make those characters come alive!
Enable your readers to discover
and appreciate
your real heroes.
The end result
will be worth your time and effort.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Connecting with others through your stories

“We’ve always learned from stories we tell each other.…
Most of us like first person stories
in the same way that most of us
like having coffee and a good talk—
a moment of real connection—
with another person.”

Hattie FletcherManaging Editor, Creative Nonfiction

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Folded like a note

Here's your 15 seconds of inspiration,
your Tuesday Tidbit:

"There is something in me maybe someday
to be written; now it is folded, and folded,
and folded, like a note in school."

Sharon Olds

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Your memoir and the importance of EMPATHY

You, as a memoirist, want to write about people that “readers bond with and root for,” writes Angela Ackerman, “and this happens because of one very important word: EMPATHY.”

“When characters are unique yet well-rounded and familiar in some way, we connect with them,” Angela continues. “We empathize with what they are going through, become tense when trouble hits, and relax when they emerge in one piece. We care about what happens to them because our emotions are engaged.”

You and I, as memoirists, have a big responsibility: to create realistic, fleshed-out main characters in our stories—not all the people, but central figures. Our job: craft believable individuals.

The stars of our narratives, the heroes, need to have:
  • personality,
  • quirks,
  • depth,
  • blind spots,
  • complexity,
  • obsessions,
  • talents,
  • weaknesses,
  • inconsistencies,
  • successes,
  • and failures.

What trait is most prominent? His worst trait? Her most endearing trait?

What is his passion? What are her life’s goals? Did he drop out of high school to fight in World War 2? Does she have her PhD?

We pinpoint what makes these details unique within the context of our lives and stories. If she’s wealthy, or if he’s just barely scraping by—and if that is significant info for our readers—then we include it.

We use all five senses to round out our main characters. We let readers see, smell, hear, feel, and taste what we experienced with our heroes.

Does she usually smell like lilacs? Or garlic? Does he have red hair and freckles? Does she have dark skin and white hair? Does he smell like coal because he works in a coal mine? Do you wish he used deodorant? Are her hands soft and well-groomed, or are they rough and chapped? What does his voice sound like? Is she cute as a bug’s ear? Does he have a birth defect? Does he wear too much aftershave? Is she super-organized? Is he sloppy?

We want our readers to feel they know our main characters and can relate to them, care about them.

Analyze and then include your main characters’ body language: “Sometimes what people say without actually speaking tells us a whole lot more than what comes out of their mouths,” writes Melissa Donovan at Writing Forward blog. “Using body language to communicate is natural. We all understand it intuitively.… [C]losely observe people’s body language and learn how humans speak without words so you can bring unspoken communication into your writing.”

Our readers want to enter our stories with us. They want to identify with us, bond, cry, laugh, worry, and hang in there with us all the way to the end.  

You’ll enjoy reading more about creating empathy through action, a person’s flaws, self-doubts, and mistakes in Angela’s post, “3 Quick Tips To Help Readers Connect To Your Hero.” (Keep in mind the post is about developing fictitious characters, but Angela’s tips are important for real people in your memoir. Just be sure you’re honest and accurate in fleshing out your real person!)

Again: Include only those details that are unique within the context of your stories. If a bit of description is significant info for your readers, include it.

More next week on fleshing out our main characters.