Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving memories for your memoir

What stories come to mind when you read this verse?

Have you written them into your memoir?

If not, jot down a few notes to yourself
and set them aside for now.

Promise yourself
you'll come back when you have time
and put those stories into writing.

Your family and friends
will thank you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Cry, sweat, tremble, bleed

After all our toil and struggle to write our memoirs, how do we get people to read them?

We “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait,” in the words of Wilkie Collins.

Speakers and writers follow that advice for obvious reasons: it keeps audiences engaged.

Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at how to ‘make ‘em laugh
so now how do we make ‘em cry?

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 acting works: 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 felt.

Avoid over-the-top hysteria, but be honest in admitting your emotions.

In the midst of reliving that situation and emotion, ask yourself:

  • 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 the same?
  •  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)

To paraphrase Larry Brooks,
make your readers
happy they are not there,
yet grateful
to feel what it was like to be you.

Emotion: That’s how you make a way for readers to join you in your story, to make them care, to make them want to keep reading.

“Our best stories evoke an emotional response,
touch a deep cord,
and motivate action and change.”
 (Peter Guber; emphasis mine)

OK, are you ready? Go make ‘em cry!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: Humor connects you with your readers

“The blend of vulnerability and humor,” writes Chuck Swindoll, “established an instant connection that allowed what I had to say to slip past their defenses and find a warm welcome in their hearts.” 

Chuck’s advice works for all communicators, including memoirists. He goes on to say:

“Humor will help you ‘say it well.’ When handled with care, humor will also endear you to your audiences, who will then give you greater access to their hearts.” (Touching Others With Your Words)

If you missed recent posts on making ‘em laugh in your memoir, click on the links below:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Use humor the right way in your memoir

Have you looked for ways to include humor in your memoir? I hope so, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the process—especially the end result.  (If you missed our last two posts, click on Cry Laugh Wait and Humor can be “like a sneak attack.”)

Humor can work wonders in human hearts and lives. Take, for example, what happened one day to Betsy Duffey and Laurie Myers (The Writing Sisters).

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.

“…We like to read other people’s
embarrassing stories.
They give us a laugh—
and often lift our mood
(‘at least I didn’t do that!’).
They can even provide
valuable learning experiences.
You don’t want to overdo it
and come across as a bumbling idiot—
but occasionally admitting to
something embarrassing
or talking about a failure
can make you more human
in your readers’ eyes.”

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.”

The Sisters shared Liz Curtis Higgs’ list comparing worldly humor with God-honoring humor:

Worldly Humor
  • Glorifies sin
  • Puts down others
  • Ridicules righteousness
  • Hurts the spirit

Godly Humor
  • Avoids offense
  • Builds up others
  • Honors the Lord
  • Heals the Spirit

Laughter is
a universal language,
a common connector
a shared experience.

Use it well
in your memoir.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tuesday Tidbit: The kind of memoir that sells

Do you dream of publishing your memoir?

If so, listen to Cec Murphey’s wise words:

Autobiographies and memoirs
can be about ordinary people
they do out-of-the-ordinary things.”

Take 20 seconds to read the rest of Cec’s post, “What Kind of Autobiography or Memoir Sells?”

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Humor can be “like a sneak attack”

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 been transfixed.”

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?

Using humor in the beginning of their talk was a factor in their message’s success—which brings us back to last Thursday’s post and the importance of making ‘em laugh in your memoir.

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 store.

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, 
perhaps generations not yet born. 
You can’t look into the future 
to know what their situations 
and challenges might be.

But you do know 
everyone has challenges and heartaches
Everyone needs wisdom 
to make important decisions 
and live their lives well, 
and your memoir’s stories 
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
inspire you
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.
If you want to pass on
important lessons
to future generations,
write engaging stories
with well-developed characters.
And consider using humor
toward the beginning
to draw them in.