If you’ve tried writing your emotion, you know that can be a
tough challenge, but in Writing Life Stories, Bill Roorbach suggests we employ method
writing, a spin-off of method acting.
Here’s how method actingworks: Before the curtain rises, the
actor remembers a time in which he experienced the emotion he needs to act out.
He spends time reliving that emotion so that when he steps on stage, he’s all
wrapped up in that emotion and succeeds in playing his part.
Method writing, then, requires you to step out of the present
and into the past. If you’re writing about a tragic event, take time (make time)
to remember the event and relive it so you can rediscover the emotions you
Avoid over-the-top hysteria, but be honest in admitting your
In the midst of reliving that situation and emotion, ask
What was at stake? What did I have to lose or gain?
What dreams would never come true?
At the time, how did I envision that my life would never be
Where would I find courage to live another day?
What were my fears, my hopes, my prayers?
When you are caught up again in that emotion, get it onto
paper or computer screen.
Your “emotion should be so realistic and gripping that the
reader can’t help but feel it too.…” (Becca Puglisi; emphasis mine)
Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and tight schedules,
they took a break and watched something on TV: Lucy and Ethel wearing bakery
hats. “As I watch them desperately wrapping candies unable to keep up with the
speed of the conveyor belt, I totally relate to the feeling. I’m already behind
today. Now I’m laughing and feeling connected, not alone in my frailty and
human condition. It’s a relief to be reminded that I am human, made of dust. My
own busy day pulls into perspective” (emphasis mine).
That’s the value of humor and its capacity to bond. In the
same way Lucy and Ethel’s episode impacted The Writing Sisters, your humor can
help readers bond with you and your story—and keep reading. (Your memoir might
not lend itself to humor—we’ll look at other options in the future—but use
humor if you can.)
Readers like to be entertained. If you entertain them, you
engage them, and you’ve begun to win them over.
Kate Cohen shares this tip on timing: “This can be as simple
as applying the funny word, phrase or sentence at the last possible moment. You
can force a pause before the punch line by starting a new paragraph” (emphasis
mine). Good tip.
Stand back and search for what’s comical or quirky in your
situation. Besides timing, look for ways to use subtle humor. Or maybe
exaggerate just a wee bit. Experiment. Give yourself time. It might just work.
But here’s a caution: Avoid offending. Poke fun at yourself,
not others. If we want readers to respect us, we must respect others.
The Writing Sisters caught my attention with this: “Worldly
humor comes from a platform of superiority over others, Godly humor from a
platform of humility.”
Every once in a while, I run across a blog post that sticks
with me. Does that happen to you, too?
October 10, 2010—more than five years ago!—I read a Johnny B.Truant post about a brilliant technique we can apply to writing memoir.
Johnny told a story from his high school years when one
afternoon, 1200 students gathered for an assembly—but no one knew why.
Two men took the stage and, instead of telling why they were
there, they told jokes and funny stories, commiserated with students about how
bad high school is, and poked fun at teachers and administrators.
“We liked these guys,” Johnny said. “They thought like we
did. Their stories were interesting and fun. We settled in and relaxed.”
But everything changed about halfway through the talk. “It
was like a sneak attack: it was on us before we knew it was coming.”
The guest speakers started talking about AIDS, abstinence,
teenage drinking, and drug use.
“It was all the stuff that adults usually talk to teenagers
about—the stuff teenagers usually roll their eyes at.
“But we weren’t rolling our eyes. We were listening. We’d
The speakers didn’t preach that AIDS is something to avoid.
Instead, they brought the crowd back to a girl they’d talked about in their
funny stories—and told them she died of HIV.
They didn’t tell the students not to drink and drive.
Instead, they brought the crowd back to a boy they’d heard about earlier in the
funny stories—and told them he was hit by a drunk driver and spent the rest of
his life in a wheelchair.
Afterward, when those 1200 kids filed out of the auditorium,
Johnny says, “Most of the kids who streamed past me were silent or crying.”
Those guest speakers had come to urge the teens to avoid dumb
choices and reckless living and peer pressure and, instead, to think, to be
smart, to make right choices. Usually high schoolers thumb their noses at
adults who try to tell them such things, “But because they did their selling
through stories, we’d bought it all,” remembers Johnny.
What do you think? Wasn’t that a brilliant technique?
Humor establishes a bond between you and your readers. It engages
your readers and makes you seem real. Humor endears you to your readers. Humor makes
your readers enjoy you. (Click here to read more at Cry, laugh, wait.)
If you don’t establish a bond with your readers toward the
beginning of your memoir, they’re likely to toss your memoir aside and let it
get dusty. Or maybe throw it in the trash, or donate it to the local thrift
If you want people to read your memoir, you’ve gotta get them
hooked. Including at least a little humor someplace early in your memoir can do
that. (Your memoir might not lend itself to humor—we’ll look at other options
in the future—but everyone else should consider using it.)
Think of this:
You don’t know who your readers might be.
You’re writing your memoir
for people who come after you,
not yet born.
You can’t look into the future
to know what their situations
challenges might be.
But you do know
everyone has challenges and heartaches.
to make important decisions
and live their lives well,
could help readers find their way
through the bumps and
pot-holes in the road.
Remember: God used other people’s stories to help make you
who you are. Their stories rubbed off on you. It’s as if other people’s stories
are infectious. Contagious.
Someone’s story helped:
show you courage
show you how to live an honorable life
keep your faith strong
keep you from despair
keep you on the right track
pass on wisdom to you
point you to God.
Now it’s your turn. In the same way other people helped you
by sharing their stories, you can help others by sharing your stories.
Your stories are important. If you don’t want readers to roll
their eyes and toss your memoir aside, try the techniques those guest speakers used:
Introduce your main characters (that includes you) in ways
that entertain and interest your readers. Draw them in. Develop your characters
so readers can bond with them, so they’ll care about them. Create main
characters readers can engage with, like the kids in the school assembly
engaged with the speakers that day.
And then, carry out your sneak attack: Bring out the deeper
lessons of your stories.
To help you get started:
Who impressed upon you the importance of safe driving, or
standing up to peer pressure, or the consequences of cheating or lying? What
are your stories? Write them.
Who taught you the merits of keeping a promise, or arriving
at work on time, or being loyal? What are your stories? Write them.
What did key people in your past teach you? And how? What are
your stories? Write them.
Let’s look at the first part of that verse: When did you find
yourself in trouble and call out to God? –And He answered your prayer and delivered
you? Think back to that time He rescued you, saved, set you free,
brought you to a safe place, and gave you a second chance.
Now let’s look at the final part of that verse: As a result
of what God did for you, how do you honor Him?
One way to honor God is through writing that story for your
memoir. Bring honor to God with all the stories in your memoir!
Honor Him: Celebrate Him by the way you write your story,
give Him credit, use your story to worship and praise Him. Pay tribute to Him.
Highlight what He’s done. Make a fuss over Him. Exalt Him.