Tag Archives: reading

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

Write for Your Life – part 3: The Big Picture

This blog will be continuing the life writing theme with the element of The Big Picture up for discussion.

Have you been writing? You hesitated. It’s interesting that vacuuming the house or doing the dishes becomes appealing when you should be writing. Procrastination is your enemy, so be mindful of this. Make your writing project part of your daily routine, it’s the only way to get it done. At least five days per week should have some time allotted to the task and before you realize it, you will have written a first draft.

After my last blog, you should have been able to map out a rough outline of your story. Don’t spend too much time on this because you need to get to work to flesh out the details by filling in the spaces between events. Eventually you will have a draft that you can step back from and assess. It will be far from perfect. Keep this in mind while you assess, otherwise you will be inclined to give up. No first draft is perfect. In fact it may be really dreadful but it’s something you can work with.

In your assessment of the first draft, you need to look at the big picture. As you read through it, make notes about what does and doesn’t work. Are there parts that need more detail? Have you waffled in another? Have you glossed over details because they are too painful, seem boring or you were lazy when you wrote them? I talked to someone in a workshop who was writing a memoir and failed to mention that he was married for several years because he didn’t think it was interesting. Most people would think that this was a significant event in a life. It also changes the reader’s perception of the story because he/she will imagine that a person was on their own when in fact they weren’t. It’s actually a false portrait of your life. If the marriage was not fantastic, that’s fine, don’t go into a lot of detail but you can’t completely omit it.

Blaise as a little girl. We don’t get the big picture.

There are many significant people that come and go from our lives. Our interaction with them affects the trajectory of our path in life. If you look at the image here of me, there is someone else in the picture. Aren’t you curious about who it is? You will start filling in my story from your own imagination. It’s my big sister and of course she is a significant person in my life, so she needs to feature in my life story. This might seem obvious to you but you’d be surprised how often writers don’t consider this.

In your reading of the first draft, you might have some aha moments about aspects of your story. Patterns may emerge or you might remember other details that have been long forgotten. This happens all the time and makes it hard to know when to stop writing because memories will keep appearing when triggered by another. That’s why it’s important to write several drafts in order to really excavate all those details.

If you visualize an archeologist uncovering the remains of a dinosaur, there will be painstaking work to uncover the bones. Bit by bit, the story of the bones is revealed. This is how your own story will evolve. Despite it being your own story, so much of it will be buried in your subconscious and will need to be ‘excavated’. Some of these memories may not be pleasant, so they may need more work to reveal than others.

Once you have gone over and assessed your first draft, start rewriting it with emphasis on parts that you think better demonstrates that ‘big picture’.

Blaise the book chick