Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Your memoir’s Grand Finale, part 2

Saturday we began considering your memoir’s ending—your Grand Finale.

You might be saying, “But I haven’t finished writing my vignettes yet!” Let me explain:

1) Write a rough draft of your conclusion, subject to revisions, and

2) It might seem strange to work on your ending before you’ve finished the main body of your memoir—your vignettes, your stories, your chapters—but think of this:

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”
Yogi Berra

In other words, plan ahead. Know where you’re going with your memoir, and aim for that. Plan ahead for your memoir to end on a high note so your readers will long remember it.

How do you do that?

Well, you had a reason to start writing your memoir. What was it?

For me, it was stumbling upon Deuteronomy 4:9, “Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you, and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!”

If you can pinpoint your reason to begin writing your memoir, you’ll have a better idea of how you want it to end.

You might want to get out a couple of sticky notes. On the first one write, “The reason I’m writing my memoir is________________” and fill in the blank.

On the second, write, “The message I want my readers to take away from my memoir is _______________” and fill in the blank, keeping in mind you probably won’t know the final version of your ending until you’ve written all your chapters and have taken time to dig deeply and discover all the gems hidden within—a crucial part of memoir.

“… The last impression
is what people remember.
Begin well, with attack and accuracy.
Drive it through.
But, whatever else,
make the end the best.
Know exactly what you are aiming for
and finish with a bang.” 

Alma Gluck

C’mon back on Saturday when we’ll examine additional considerations for your memoir’s Grand Finale.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Your memoir’s Grand Finale

Even if you’re still writing your memoir, you can begin planning your Grand Finale—your conclusion, or postscript, or epilogue. Whatever you call it, it could be the most powerful part of your memoir.

Your Grand Finale gives you an opportunity to highlight the most important points, those messages you want your readers to treasure and incorporate into their own lives.

If, like most of us here at SM 101, your memoir’s purpose is based on Bible verses like Deuteronomy 4:9—

Always remember what you’ve seen God do for you
and be sure to tell your children and grandchildren!

—then craft a Grand Finale that celebrates God in a personal way.

I have lots of ideas for your Grand Finale, but let’s start with one of the easier ways to craft your memoir’s ending: a fill-in-the-blank exercise using Psalm 136, a magnificent song of praise to God.

In the first nine verses, praise focuses on God the Creator of all:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
          His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
          His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
          His love endures forever.
to Him who alone does great wonders,
          His love endures forever.
who by His understanding made the heavens,
          His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
          His love endures forever.
who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
          His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
          His love endures forever.

I suggest you include those first nine verses as-is because, starting with verse ten, you can customize the rest of the psalm for your family.

Here’s what I mean:

Starting with verse ten, praise focuses on God who is personally involved with His children—their families, their daily comings and goings, and the span and purposes of their lives.

For example, those next few verses praise God for bringing Israel out of Egypt, parting the Red Sea, and leading them through the desert wilderness. It then recounts the many additional ways God showed His love and faithfulness to His people, Israel.

Your customized version of Psalm 136 would look something like this, (with you filling in the blanks, below, with ways God guided your family):

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
          His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
          His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
          His love endures forever.
to Him who alone does great wonders,
          His love endures forever.
who by His understanding made the heavens,
          His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters,
          His love endures forever.
who made the great lights
          His love endures forever.
the sun to govern the day,
          His love endures forever.
the moon and stars to govern the night;
          His love endures forever.
          His love endures forever.
His love endures forever.
          His love endures forever.
          His love endures forever.

…and so on.

Starting with verse ten, you might want to go back several generations, especially if, for example, your family survived the Holocaust, or the infamous Clearances in Scotland, or the potato famine in Ireland.

Your Grand Finale will likely consist of more than a paraphrase of Psalm 136, but including it can help your kids, grandkids, and other family members recognize they’re part of God’s family, part of something much bigger than themselves and their generation

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

“Disburb us, Lord, when.…”

You want to entertain your memoir’s readers, but you also want to change your readers.

You want to write stories that show God’s everyday involvement in your life and your readers’ lives, stories that illustrate “everything is revealed to be in the hands of God.…” (Lawrence Kushner, Invisible Lines of Connection: Sacred stories of the ordinary)

Within that context, make sure your memoir’s stories—at least some of them—challenge your readers to think, to ponder, to mull over issues below the surface. Challenge readers to turn from worldly trinkets and distractions so they can consider their lives’ substance and purpose.

The following prayer teems with ideas for your memoir’s vignettes:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrive safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our effort to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

Attributed to Sir Francis Drake, 1577

Did Drake’s prayer give you ideas for vignettes? I hope so!

For example, take the first couple of lines: “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves.…” What does “too well pleased with ourselves” mean? What stories can you write about being too pleased with yourself or about someone else who was too pleased with himself? What were the results of that mindset? Why would/should we pray for God to disturb us over it?

Look at the next couple of lines: “Disturb us, Lord, when … our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little.…” What does dreaming “too little” mean to you? What results from dreaming too little? Why would/should we pray for God to disturb us over it? What stories can you write to illustrate that?

Sift through your memories for stories that illuminate “Disturb us, Lord, when … we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.” What does “sailing too close to shore” mean to you? When did you sail too close to shore? What were the results? Why would/should we pray for God to disturb us over sailing too close to shore?

On the other hand, look over the third stanza: When did you dare more boldly and venture on wider seas where, as a result, storms showed you God’s mastery? Write a vignette about a time you lost sight of land, and as a result, you discovered stars. You’ll want to examine and explain what the following mean: “wider seas,” “storms,” “God’s mastery,” “losing sight of land,” and finding “stars.”

Stories matter. Stories make a difference.

Stories guide, inspire, encourage, influence, motivate, and empower.

Stories shape lives.

“Sometimes a particular story, or version of a story, is so potent,” says Ayd Instone, “that it becomes so interwoven in our lives that it defines the direction our life story takes and modifies behavior.… I’ve seen teenagers who changed the direction of their lives to become teachers after seeing the film, The Dead Poets Society.…”  

Your stories are important. Write them!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

How an HGTV program demonstrated Jeremiah 29:11

A couple of evenings ago, HGTV’s House Hunters featured James, his wife Mindy, and their four children in their search for a house in southern California—but James was no ordinary man.

Born in Da Nang, Vietnam, during the war, James contracted polio in his infancy and inadequate medical help left him crippled in both legs.

James’ mother made the heart-wrenching decision to put him in an orphanage, no doubt hoping and praying he would find the help he needed.

Then, during the fall of Saigon, U.S. President Gerald R. Ford arranged emergency evacuation flights for some 110,000 Vietnamese, including two-year-old James.

James praised the American family that adopted and raised him and—then came the best moment, for me, of the program: James explained how thankful he was for his polio and for being given to the orphanage because, he explained, if he had remained in Vietnam, his life would have held bleak prospects and many hardships.

And isn’t that what Jeremiah 29:11 is all about?

“For I know the plans I have for you,”
declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”

James recognized, and told HGTV viewers about, the blessings that resulted from what appeared, at first, to be disasters. Based on his words and his wife’s necklace, I’m sure James saw God’s fingerprints all over his life.

If you’ve been part of the SM 101 tribe for a while, you know where I’m going with this:

Think back on events that seemed all wrong, that threatened to destroy your dreams and hopes, that left you in despair.

Take a few days to take a long look at those events and search for God’s fingerprints all over them.

We often miss the most important Holy Fingerprints because we don’t take time to dig deeply and examine and think and pray.

Invest time in this until you can declare, like Elisabeth Elliot:

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be.
It may seem to be worse,
but in the end
it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

Write a vignette for your memoir showing ways that, despite seeming setbacks, God had plans to prosper* you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

You’ll find additional inspiration from these earlier blog posts:

Connect Your Dots, and my friend Barb’s cry, “Lord, You’ve said you’d make my path straight, so why is my path so crooked?”

You’re the bridge between generations past and generations yet to come.

Write your stories!
Your children, grandchildren and other readers
need to know they can trust God with their lives,
that He has plans to prosper* them
and not to harm them,
plans to give them hope and a future.

*The word prosper is, in Hebrew, shalom, meaning peace, completeness, tranquility, soundness, safety, and well-being. Here’s how Cornelius Plantinga describes shalom:

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be” (from Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

“One of the great challenges of the writer is to produce a text that will …”

Donald M. Murray tells about reading a World War II story and interpreting it through his own experience as a paratrooper in that war.

His wife worked in the Pentagon during World War II and when she reads the same book, “she will read a different book,” says Murray in The Craft of Revision.

Murray continues, “When my daughters, who were … raised during the Vietnam era, read it, they will each read a still different text.”

In the same way, your memoir’s readers will interpret your stories through their own experiences and historical eras.

Murray says:

One of the great challenges of the writer is to produce a text that will cause readers to draw on their different experiences and still understand what we have to say.”

How can you write stories from your past that will resonate with readers growing up in a different epoch? Perhaps some of your readers have not yet been born!

“The first step,” Murray says, “is to recognize that our world may be different from the reader’s.”

In addition to recognizing readers will live in a different historical setting, he says, “We must recognize that our readers may not share our religion; our political party; [or] our economic perspective.…”

In writing a book about World War II, Murray says, “I must remember that my readers may not know what an M-1—our rifle—was, or a C-45—the two-engine troop-carrier plane from which we jumped. They may never have heard of the Maginot Line … or the SS …; may not even know of the Holocaust.…”

Imagine the year is 2040 and your great-grandson, age twenty-five, is reading your memoir.

Will he understand that when your house caught fire in 1962, you could not run outside with your phone to call the fire department because phones were attached to the wall with a cord? And that’s why you had to stay inside to call for help, and that’s why your pajamas caught fire? And that’s why your legs have scars?

If you came of age during the Vietnam era, especially if you or a loved one was drafted into the military, you’ll want readers to understand the political, social, and religious factors that divided and rocked our nation during those years. (You’ll probably need to explain what the draft was, too.)

Charlie Hale has compiled several brilliant pieces about both World War II and the war in Vietnam, including I Remember: Viet Nam, my friends, and Memorial Day.

Over at Diana Trautwein’s blog, she writes “It was the mid 1960’s and the escalating war in Vietnam brought deep soul-searching for many men of draft-able age. My husband had a unique up-bringing which led to an unusual choice, a choice which took him far away from the jungles of [Vietnam].… A saving grace in the draft process was to register as a 1-W—a ‘person opposed to bearing arms by reason of personal religious conviction.’ And that’s exactly what my husband had done.… He had registered as a conscientious objector (CO) … [and] that meant two years of service offered in lieu of joining the military. My husband wanted to do those two years somewhere far from home.…” (from An African Journal—Post One: Beneath the Surface)

If you want to witness a master craftsman make history come alive, take seven minutes at Charlie Hale’s blog for his video, The Images, Stories, and Songs of War. He uses black and white photos, songs of the era, and his concise narrative to capture both World War II and Vietnam—and their stark differences. It is a riveting piece.

Learn from Donald M. Murray, Charlie Hale, and Diana Trautwein. Capture the social, political, religious, and economic milieu of your life stories. Your history and your world are different from those of your readers but with a bit of effort, you can do what Murray says: “produce a text that will cause readers to draw on their different experiences and still understand what [you] have to say.” 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Will they know your favorite things?

My husband, Dave, and I just returned from a whale of a great family visit with four generations (ages 1 through 94) on both sides of the family. We shared lots of hugs and laughter and stories, and we ate too much, but we strengthened loving bonds and created memories galore.

Many of us have known each other for decades (for our entire lives in some cases), but we’re still surprised when we discover something new: My mother-in-law loves orange sherbet mixed with vanilla ice cream. Spencer’s passion is screenwriting. Stacy’s favorite color is red. Craig and Jonathan love playing rowdy games with the little kids. My granddaughters adore their Great-aunt Sandra. Glennyce showed her gentle humor when she surprised six-year-old Claire by wiggling her wig (the last time they saw each other, Claire was too young to understand Glennyce had cancer). I treasure listening to my husband and his brothers play cards late into the night and their frequent bursts of laughter.

That got me to thinking. You and I know our favorite things but do our loved ones know? If not, would they be surprised to find out? Shocked? Tickled?

Some of our likes might not make for important family history but they can provide interest and give our readers ways to know us better.

They might even help future generations identify with us and feel a connection to the family. For example, did my grandson, Kade, inherit my passion for collecting seashells?

What are your favorite things? After you’re gone, will your family and other readers know?

These are a few of my favorite things:

a rose’s perfume
a grandchild’s hug
my husband’s pranks
salmon grilled just right
dark chocolate
sound sleep
Clare de Lune
Mt. Rainier
African smiles
banana muffins
ripe nectarines
Asiago cheese on hot buttered pasta
hot Kenya tea
ferry rides
my old photos
1812 Overture
tomatoes and basil fresh from our garden 
gathering seashells from Puget Sound's beaches 
cardinals basking, crimson, in early morning sunbeams

What are your favorite things?

Make a list and look over your rough drafts for places to add interesting tidbits. Beyond letting your readers know you better, those details will add richness, texture, and enjoyment for them.