Thursday, December 1, 2016

Are you using dialogue the right way in your memoir?

Dialogue is a powerful tool in writing your memoir:
  • It invites readers into your story,
  • it lets them participate in your experience,
  • it acquaints readers with a character’s personality, values, perspective, and attitude,
  • it can offer readers noteworthy information,
  • and it can provide readers with backstory—significant events from the past.

But writing dialogue can be tricky. How do you reconstruct a conversation from 50 years ago, or even five years ago?

You can’t—at least not 100 per cent accurately—because, unless you wrote it down at the time, or have a recording, you must rely on memory, and we all know memory has a way of making everything foggy.

And yet, if you call your book “a memoir,” you claim you’ve written a factual story (not fiction), and you’re promising readers they can trust you to tell the truth. So how can you use dialogue if you don’t remember the conversation precisely?

Here’s how it works: Both memoirists and readers know it’s impossible to be exact about a conversation that happened long ago. A memoirist’s job, then, is to recreate that conversation as honestly as possible—to write in such a way that readers understand the dialogue represents the conversation's true message. Determine to avoid misleading readers in every detail.

So then, use accurate dialogue, and craft it well.

Write dialogue that sounds natural and unforcedlike something you’d really hear.

If a character speaks in incomplete sentences, or if those involved in a conversation interrupt each other, or if they finish each other's sentences, write your dialogue that way: Keep it real.

If a character is hoity-toity, write dialogue showing she’s self-important and puffed up.

If a character was raised in a genteel household, write proper, courteous dialogue for her.

If he is an intellectual, choose words an academic uses, but if he grew up on a Missouri farm and didn’t graduate from high school, choose words he’d typically say.

If she grew up in Texas, her vocabulary differs from that of someone who grew up in Quebec. 

If someone habitually starts a sentence five times in five different ways, work that into your dialogue a couple of times to reveal that aspect of her personality, but otherwise eliminate those false starts.

Remember the wise old rule: Write tight. Leave out unnecessary talk—greetings, chitchat, and small talk—anything that doesn’t serve a purpose.

“In writing dialogue don’t write every word,” says Nancy Ellen Dodd. “For one, that would be boring, and two, it slows down the pacing. Write what is necessary to get the point across. That being said, you may have a character who is verbose and a character who barely completes a thought…. Keep dialogue brief and cut unnecessary words, unless the character is verbose.”

Cecil Murphey says it this way: “In real life, people speak in general, long-winded diatribes, or mention twenty things before they focus on what they want to say. In print, we need to delete the clutter and get to the point.” 

Here’s more wisdom from Cec: “Make your characters speak less than people actually do, …and speak more the way real people wish they spoke.”

After you’ve crafted a passage of dialogue, set it aside for a week or two and then read it aloud. Your ears and tongue will help you find spots that still need work. Keep polishing until you’re happy with it. In the end, it will be worth all the effort.

Spend a few minutes reading Jennie Nash’s excellent post, A Little Lesson in Dialogue.

Next Tuesday we’ll look at other aspects of dialogue so c’mon back!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Remembering and thanking

This past week we all focused on 
the many reasons we have to give thanks, 
so think about this:

Writing your God-and-you stories 
is one way to thank Him 
for all He has done for you and your family.

Extend and expand your gratitude:
Write your stories!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

“Remember,” the most frequent Old Testament command

This must be one of the saddest passages in the Bible:

They believed His words;
They sang His praise.
They soon forgot His works….
Psalm 106:12-13, NKJV

“Many churches have forgotten the premium
that the historic Judeo-Christian tradition placed on remembrance
…and recalling the right things.
The ‘great sin’ of the Old Testament
was forgetfulness
(at least it is the most recurrent offense).
Remember’ is the most frequent command
in the Old Testament.”
(Clapham Memo, January 19, 2007,
“Back and Forth,” by Mike Metzger; emphasis mine)

“Remembering requires intentionality,” writes the Christian Grandparenting Network. “It is the constant warning of prophets and patriarchs...‘do not forget,’ ‘remember!’ Why? Because we are so prone to wander and forget who God is and what He has done in the past. And that has devastating consequences.

“Janet Thompson, author of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, says, ‘If we don’t remember what God already has done, we won’t believe what he is capable of doing in the future. Memory builds faith…. Most [believers] don’t intentionally forget God, they just don’t try hard enough to remember him.’

Christian Grandparenting Network continues, “God knew that if we didn’t make the effort to remember, it would take only one generation who forgets the goodness and greatness of God to completely make God irrelevant in the next generation….
One of the key roles God has given to grandparents is that of ‘storyteller.’ We are to be, not only the repositories of family and faith history, but the tellers of those histories. The Psalmist declared, ‘Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come’ (Psalm 7:18)….”

God has been involved in
your family’s life in countless ways.

Have you forgotten some of them?
What stories do you need to remember?

Remembering them will build your faith
and increase your trust in God for the future!

Make a commitment:
Schedule time to write those stories
and place them in the hands of
your kids, grandkids, and great-grands.


Because God can use your stories
to build their faith
and increase their trust in God for the future!
Yours is a sacred calling.
Enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit: Telling the next generation

…I will utter…things from of old— 
what we have heard and known,
what our fathers told us.
We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statues…
and established the law in Israel,
which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them,
even children yet to be born,
and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God
and would not forget his deeds….”
Psalm 78: 2-7 (NIV)

This is what SM 101 is all about!
Write your stories!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Are you available and ready?

“A seed of an idea.”

Do you feel ideas sprouting up inside you, stories you need to include in your memoir?

Or, on the other hand, are you overwhelmed at the thought of coming up with ideas for writing a memoir? If so, relax. Ideas are endless!

Make yourself “available and ready.”
Listen to your silent thoughts and imaginings because
while you’re driving to work,
or folding laundry,
or getting ready for a board meeting,
or preparing a sermon,
or reading posts on Facebook,
or tucking the kids into bed at night,
or grocery shopping,
or brushing your teeth
ideas will pop into your mind.

When they do, jot them down. If you don’t have a piece of paper to write on, use your cell phone to list those ideas when they come to mind. And then pat yourself on the back, because by doing that, you’ve started your memoir!

For example, give yourself time to think about following questions if you want to write a memoir about your childhood:

  • Who was your best friend when you were 13 years old? 18 years old? 20 years old? How did those friends influence you (good or bad)?
  • What was the most unusual adventure of your childhood?
  • Who was your favorite teacher or coach or Scout leader or church youth group leader? Why?
  • What were your favorite books when you were a kid? a teenager? a college student?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up? Did that change over the years? Why?
  • What was the best day of your childhood? Why?
  • What was the saddest day of your childhood? Why?
  • What event changed your life forever (good or bad)?
  • What were your parents and grandparents like? aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors?

Like I said, the ideas are endless. Have fun exploring them. Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns, you’ll be able to connect the dots. Then start writing your rough draft. And have fun!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tuesday Tidbit : Autumn’s sensory details

If any of your memoir's stories took place in autumn,
include a few sensory details.
Help readers join you in your story
and experience what you experienced.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What is a memior: Back to basics

Sometimes in the midst of writing our memoirs, we need to remind ourselves what a memoir is. This helps us focus correctly and work efficiently.

Since there’s some confusion about the genre of memoir, let’s pin down what it is not: Memoir is not journaling. A journal is private—for your eyes only—but you write a memoir for others to read.

A memoir is not an autobiography. An autobiography documents your life beginning with the day you were born, but a memoir focuses on one segment of your life—(1) a specific theme or (2) a time period, a slice of life.

We can write a memoir based on a theme—for example, the theme of working as a seamstress in Asia, or a food vender at Seattle’s Safeco Field, or a step-mother to six kids.  We focus on only that theme, leaving out other topics—such as the fact that we might be friends with Ben Zobrist (World Series MVP, in case you missed that last night) or met our future spouse at the local animal shelter.

Or we can write a memoir based on a time period. My memoir, Grandma’s Letters from Africa, covers a time period—my first four years in Africa. Another person’s time period might be his teenage years, the years following a spouse’s death, or service in the Peace Corps. We focus only on that slice of our lives and leave out other topics.

We include only those details that pertain to our chosen window of time or our memoir’s theme.

Personal reflection is a key ingredient in memoir. Remember that. Most of us need to work on understanding what reflection is because, as Richard Foster observes, “The sad truth is that many authors simply have never learned to reflect substantively on anything.”

So, memoirists reflect in a deliberate way:

We look back,
peel away layers,
find the gems.
We inspect,
examine those gems,
and ponder their deeper meaning.
We look for God’s fingerprints all over everything
We spend as much time as we need to make sense of what we discover.
We uncover the deeper, higher, wider, richer story.

In the past, we might have overlooked something of the utmost importance, so we make time to search for those profound lessons—insights, healing, blessings—that God inserted into the events of our lives.

In the process, we might need to do a “Doggie Head Tilt,” a phrase Michael Metzger coined. “If your head never tilts,” he says, “your mind never changes.” True!

Within reflecting, we answer these questions:
  • What new things have I learned about myself as a result of the key events of my life?
  • What new things did I learn about God? About significant people in my life?
  • How have these discoveries made me into a different, better person?

Writing a spiritual memoir does not require that we have supernatural religious stories to write about, stories that would make the evening news and get tweeted around the world. Instead, we look for ways God was involved in our everyday lives.

We don’t have to write about God in every chapter of our memoirs. Whether we realized it at the time or not, He was with us, busy working out His good plans for His children—and from time to time in our stories we can spell out what He was doing. And let’s do so in a winsome way, rather than sounding holier-than-thou.

Jesus said,
“Go tell your family everything God has done for you”
(Luke 8:39).

That’s why we write our memoirs!