Category Archives: Telling Your Story

Write for Your Life Part 6: The Senses

Stories are better with sensory description. Photo by Blaise van Hecke

Write for your life. Have you been doing it? You’ll have nothing to work with if you don’t sit down and put words on a page, no matter what you feel about your writing ability or how you are putting the story together.

I’ve been writing about different aspects of life writing over the previous five blogs, so this is the last of this series. At the end of the day there are no ‘rules’ about how to write or how to write your memoir or biography but I know that there will be something from these blogs that will help you push forward and create something that others want to read. There’s nothing more ‘eye-glazing’ than a biography full of dates and events but no emotion or actual story.

You might have the bones of your story. You may even have identified some themes and feel that the story is reading well. But is it engaging? Does your reader feel like they are right there with you in 1975 when you skinned your knee at Uncle Tom’s funeral?

By uses the senses, you can infuse life (pun intended) into your story. There are the obvious senses like sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell and there are the subtler ones like intuition, feelings of pain and balance. The latter senses are more about how we react to the physical world around us.

The reason that the senses are important is that we react to the world in different ways through them. For instance, some people learn better through auditory stimulus, others need to see things and visualise them. These sensory stimuli create a different experience for each individual. By being more specific with your description using the senses, you will be able to really connect with your reader on a more emotional level. This is especially useful if writing from a child’s point of view who will have less verbal capacity to relay what they feel.

Writing exercise
Think about an event in your childhood that is strong in your memory. It could be your first day at school, the day a pet or relative died or when a sibling was brought home from the hospital. For this exercise, I want you to write from the point of view of your age. This means that your vocabulary might be limited as will be your understanding of the world around you. If you were five, write as a five-year-old would speak. Use the senses. What are the smells or sounds around you or can you feel something (physically or intuitively) that you don’t understand? Write about this for 10 minutes and then stop. Don’t overthink this and write as freely as possible.

When you read the piece, have you managed to infuse very specific sensory details into it? If not, go over it and see where you might be able to put in more. Often, it’s in the rewriting that you can see where this will add layers to your story.

Once you’ve tried this exercise, go over your own story and see if there are opportunities to infuse more life into it through sensory description. You’ll find that it becomes more engaging.

If you want to extend yourself further in your writing practice, think about attending one of our many workshops. My next Life Writing workshop is in June.

Blaise van Hecke, the book chick

Write for Your Life Part 5: Storytelling

Good storytelling is about the details: Photo by Blaise van Hecke

How’re you going with your life writing? Have you been working on it over the past two weeks? By now you should have a good idea of the structure and some possible themes. Possibly you have the foundation down for the body of the story, maybe even a first draft.

At this stage, the quality of your work will NOT be publishable. As much as we like to think that we can pen perfect prose in one sitting, this is very rare. There will be snippets of great work that you will like but most of it will need work. This is where the storytelling comes in. It’s after your first draft, when you’ve sorted out the structure and worked out what your story is focused on that you can now shape it to be more engaging to the reader.

Have you ever been in a social setting where someone has related a story to you in such a way that your eyes glaze over and you start looking for ways to exit the conversation? What was it about this exchange that bored you? Too much detail? Too much waffle? No point to the story?

There are many reasons why a story might be boring. It might simply be that the topic doesn’t interest you. It may interest someone else. Don’t expect that everyone will like what you write because it comes down to interest and taste but maybe you can sway someone who isn’t interested in your story by the way you tell it.

What makes a good story? You can probably answer this yourself by thinking about books you’ve read, or movies you’ve seen, and why you liked them. The style, tone, language all play a part. Most importantly, your voice needs to shine through.

How do you find your voice? This is probably the most important aspect of writing and can take work to discover. I can say that the more you write, the more chance you have of finding it. You’ll also know that you’ve found your voice because the writing flows well and you feel like you are in a comfortable space with your writing.

The exercise in part 1 of this blog series is a great exercise to try to help you find your voice because it helps you to access your authentic self. Even writing in a daily journal will help with this because the more you write, the more you find your writing self.

Good writing is about combining your facts with narrative in such a way that you communicate your message to your audience. This is the part that needs work. Some people are naturally good storytellers and can do it without much thought. For many, it’s about the details. What do you put in, what do you leave out? Once you have your first draft, this is when you go over it and assess it. This is where you ask yourself: am I waffling here? Do people care what I had for breakfast on that Friday in 1985? (yes, IF it adds interesting details to the story because you were broke and living on toast 24/7).

Good storytelling is also about good style: Writing that is accessible to the reader and flows well. That comes more easily when you discover your voice. Don’t try to be like another writer because they are a best seller but look at the way they write and see what things they do to engage you as a reader. There are many rules that apply to writing but many good stories that break the rules. Like any art form, it’s about finding what works for you.

Blaise the book chick