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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

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Write for Your Life Part 4: Themes

What is your life theme? Photo by Blaise van Hecke

Have you been writing? We are now eight weeks into our life writing, so you should have a good handle on the overall story. So far, we have looked at the structure and ways to get the story out. It’s important to do this before worrying too much about the quality of your writing because you can’t work with nothing. Having that first draft, no matter how terrible you think it is, gives you the foundation to build on. I promise you the first draft is NEVER good. There will be parts of it that are good and parts that are terrible.

Once you feel that you have something that resembles a first draft, leave it for a little while (at least a week) and then look back over it. What stands out for you? Does the story feel preachy, sad, angry? Are there any common threads becoming apparent? These common threads are what will make your story resonate with your reader. If the story is just a series of events with no real thread, it may be boring to the reader.

These common threads are what hold the story together and become your theme. For instance, if you have a chronic illness that you have overcome, the theme of your overall story may be resilience. It’s not something that needs to be spelled out or explained to the reader but something that they take from the story.

There may be more than one theme. That’s okay but you don’t want dozens of them and you don’t want mixed messages. If your theme is about saving time, you don’t want your story to waffle on. It should be succinct and time-saving.

Once you have identified your theme(s), you need to go over your story to make sure there are no mixed messages and flesh out areas where you can strengthen the message (be careful to not be too dogmatic or preachy about this). In cases where you have mixed messages, this is the time to cut text.

If you are having trouble pinpointing what your theme is, you could ask someone else to read it. We get very close to our work so it’s sometimes hard to see it subjectively. Other readers will see it from a different point of view, or they might say, ‘I really like this part about how you worked through XX’. This will give you something to work with that resonates with someone.

Your homework now is to determine your theme or a theme that you’d like to really build on. Then go over the document and see where it can be strengthened.

Blaise the book chick

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